Following the initial brouhaha about the Manny Ramirez suspension, word of the Dodgers in the national media basically disappeared. The opening days were spent trying to figure out what was going on with Manny's sudden suspended status, what he took, whether he would apologize to teammates, fans, and Bill Plaschke. But after Ramirez handled all of the important constituencies, he quietly disappeared, working out only when the team (and most press) wasn't around.
This overlapped with a quick eon of articles all trumpeting the Dodgers' demise. Rudderless without Manny, we lost four of the next five games. The press were stomping on our grave like a reporter stomping on a bucket of grapes.
But then, like said reporter, those who stomped were soon on the ground in pain, as the Dodgers sacked up and got some mettle. We split a series with the world champion Phillies in Philadelphia. Won a series in Florida. Swept the Mets at home. Lost a series to the Angels, but then swept the Rockies and split with the Cubbies. And suddenly, we didn't look so dead after all.
We followed our initial Manny-less games with a mediocre record, but when the suspension was over, we had quietly increased our lead on everyone else in the division. But it was indeed quiet, because everyone was so busy covering the Rockies' win streak (albeit no ground gained against the Dodgers), the Cubs' and Mets' respective swoons, and of course the Yankees and Red Sox. Despite topping the Power Rankings and being the first team to 50 wins, done mostly without our best hitter and Opening Day pitcher, the Dodgers received barely a mention.
Look at the number of All-Star starters that the team with the majors' best record received: Three, including Orlando Hudson (backup) and two pitchers (for whom fans could not vote). Our lineup had glimmers of excellence and arguments of All-Star merit, but could not muster any national press attention, not without Manny in the lineup.
And now, Manny is back. And he hit a home run, on national television, while Fox used his at bat to cut in on every game across the country. Can you recall any time in recent memory (post-Bonds 73) that everyone in the country was interrupted for one player's at bat? Let alone a Dodger? Well, for Manny, the baseball world stopped to watch. And he responded with a towering shot to left that screamed out of cavernous Petco Park. A Hollywood-scripted return, indeed.
Look, Manny Ramirez may not be 100% just yet, but he is baaaaaaack. And with his return comes the press corps and media coverage that the Dodgers' record and incredible play this year deserve. They have quietly achieved without Ramirez, and now have three months left to prove to the world that this first half wasn't a fluke. And make no doubt, if Manny stays in the lineup, we will continue to get the attention.
It feels nice, doesn't it? To be part of the conversation, rather than the best-kept secret in baseball? Some may not appreciate the newfound attention, but I (as a fan) enjoy it, and I hope and believe that our players with thrive under the media scrutiny and pressured environment. If nothing else, it may be just the tonic for a team that has a lead that is five games greater than any other division leader. It will be hard for the team to get complacent if they know that, now, everyone is watching their every move. And waiting, some even hoping, that we'll falter.
But we may as well get used to it now, if we're going to continue this pace. And just think about how battle-tested we'll be come September.