Thursday, March 05, 2009

Welcome Back, Manny!

Okay, we have had our fun not covering the big Dodgers story of the past 24 hours, if not the full offseason itself: Manny Ramirez is back as a Dodger, at least for one year, possibly for two.


Just like that, the 2009 Dodgers' chances instantly improved. I am ecstatic. This is a team that I want to watch. And it seems to me that Manny brings so many things with him:

1. Manny Ramirez makes the Dodgers relevant. Lost in the morass of four long months of nothing but boring negotiations which moved at a molasses-like pace, is the fact that this was the story that every baseball writer wanted to cover, that every baseball writer had to cover. And now that it's done, everyone has posted his or her own coda to the offseason-long dance. Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports has a nice piece that indicates that some of both years' salaries is deferred, though he implies not as far out as McCourt had originally offered. Jayson Stark of ESPN explains how Frank McCourt was able to put his sore ego aside in order to have a heart-to-heart with Manny on the eve of the signing. Even Peter Gammons, whose saltiness about Ramirez' exit from Boston last year infected every one of his columns about the Dodgers, wrote a positive article stating that both the Dodgers and Manny emerged as winners. Jerry Crasnick describes how the other Dodgers were mostly happy, with the exception of Juan Pierre, who took his noodle arm and stormed out of the clubhouse. Bill Plaschke takes his shot at revisionist history as he welcomes Manny back to LA with open arms. Jon Heyman of indicates that Manny's opt-out option after one year will depend on the economy as well as how the glut of other corner outfielder free agents fare.

The fact is, everybody wants to cover this story, and everybody will continue to cover Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers through 2009. He is the marquee player that will get our highlights posted front and center on SportsCenter, that will get Dodger questions in the queue on sportstalk radio, that will get America buzzing about a team disadvantaged by time zones and an east coast bias. Manny Ramirez' signing gets the Dodgers in the press. And that's a good thing, if you're a Dodgers fan (especially one who travels a lot and has to rely upon non-hometown media for news). If I had a nickel for every email we've received or every comment I've gotten asking if Manny is going to sign--well, I'd be able to park on Montana Avenue for at least 10 minutes.

2. Manny Ramirez makes the Dodgers' lineup potent. The big offseason questions for the Dodgers have been either (a) the strength of a starting rotation that has two youngsters, one re-tread, and a Japanese import; or (b) the lack of pop in the lineup to help augment what we believe--what we hope--will be promising offensive outputs from our youth brigade of James Loney, Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. Signing Ramirez not only adds that big bat that is going to score Rafael Furcal from second. It also provides a leadership figure that will protect the young when the inevitable slump transpires, and help teach by example to bring these kids out of said slumps. Ramirez has said that he's motivated by his statistics and wants to improve upon his HOF-lock resume by getting to 700 home runs (Ramirez has 527) and 3000 hits (he has 2392). If this motivation is genuine, and if he plays like he played as a Dodger late last year, Ramirez is going to be a force. (And for those of you still riding the wave of the 2008 Dodgers squad that finished first, vanquished the Cubs in the NLDS and then lost to the eventual World Series champion Phillies--remember that the 2007 squad that finished fourth in the NL West had the same Loney/Furcal/Martin/Kemp/Ethier core, in addition to Pierre, who now looks like he'll come off the bench rather than be forced into service at the team's expense.) Manny's bat makes a difference.

3. Manny Ramirez makes the Dodgers watchable. There aren't many players that not only bring you out to the stadium, but also around which you plan your concession and restroom runs as to not miss their at bats. In my lifetime, I can think of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, maybe Adrian Beltre in 2004 when he hit 48? Ramirez is that guy. I have already written that Ramirez would singlehandedly add an incremental five to 10 games to my own season attendance next year (family and work schedule permitting). McCourt has said he won't raise ticket prices for 2009, but the fact is that his $12 beer and $29.66 average ticket prices contribute to make the Dodgers the seventh-most expensive ticket and the sixth-most expensive fan experience, among all MLB teams. With this economic downturn, there is no doubt that the resilient attendance records of Dodger Stadium will be under pressure; at least Ramirez ups the entertainment value for the fans and will put butts in seats (or at least on couches, watching Fox Sports West every night--which still results in improved advertising rates, Frank; don't worry!).

I am excited that the Ramirez signing is inked, the protracted negotiations are behind us, and we can get down to playing baseball with a lineup that I really want to see.

Welcome back, Manny. Welcome back, Dodgers.

Let's play ball!

photo by Rick Scuteri/Reuters