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Manny era coming to forgettable end

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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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By putting Manny Ramirez on the waiver wire — a process so arcane that no one, not even the legions of fantasy nerds, really understand it — the Dodgers are aiming to save the remaining four-plus million on his contract. No doubt, these savings will go straight to the lawyers guiding Frank and Jamie McCourt through their divorce trial, scheduled to begin on Monday here in Los Angeles.

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  • How will you remember the Manny era in L.A.?
    • It was fun while it lasted
    • It was disaster from the start

You don’t have to live in Hollywood to know this makes for an especially unhappy ending — for Ramirez and the regime that pimped him out as a dreadlocked savior, but most of all, for the astoundingly loyal Dodger fans. It’s strange to think it’s been just two years since his arrival — as comically triumphant an entrance as you’ll see.

I’ll always recall Tommy Lasorda’s foul-mouthed tirade at a press corps that almost ran him over to get to Manny, whose Oakleys camouflaged the famously vacant look in his eyes. This could only happen in L.A. Quite suddenly, Ramirez was no longer a malcontent; he was like Peter Sellers in “Being There.” The village idiot had been declared a genius. He was adored for his Zen-like temperament. I recall Scott Boras arguing that Manny was really a kind of post-modern Yogi Berra.

The intervening years have been short on Manny-isms. But, damn, he could hit: .396, with 17 homers and 53 RBI in the remaining 53 regular-season games.

His at-bats became appointment viewing. I have never seen a city embrace any player in any sport like that, so quickly and with less guile.

There were Manny wigs, and a Mannywood section in the stands. Vic the Brick, a local radio host whose look can only be described as Hasidic Psychedelic, devoted entire broadcasts to Manny-worship. It was like a prayer service. It was excessive. It was absurd. And looking back, it was an assault on reason. But it was also kind of cool. Then you had people like me saying that the Dodgers had to — had to — re-up the guy for a minimum of $100 million.

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Now the McCourts were the worst kind of strivers, which is to say their ambitions exceeded their means. They put their kids on the payroll and employed an assortment of PR hacks (I am not referring to the staff of Josh Rawitch, which busts its collective ass every day) and even a metaphysical healer charged with sending positive vibrations to the Dodgers from his home in suburban Boston. But for all their profligacies, the McCourts deserve nothing but praise for the way in which they handled Ramirez. First of all, general manager Ned Colletti had Boston pay for the two-month rental in 2008. Second, realizing that Ramirez had no serious suitors as a free agent, Frank McCourt refused to bid against himself for Ramirez’ services. As it happened, Boras got him $45 million over two years, much of it deferred.

Two months later, Ramirez was exposed as a cheat, having tested positive for a female fertility drug commonly used to mask the effects of steroid use. The Dodgers were never the same, nor were they much fun. Last year, Ramirez got a 50-game suspension. This year, he’s been on the DL three times.

Recall Mark McGwire’s putrid confession. He said he cheated, not to hit home runs, but to stay on the field. One suspects the same calculation pertains to Ramirez. His numbers are down, sure, but mostly because he can’t stay clean and healthy at the same time.

Ramirez — who’s currently hitting his career average, .313 — would knock in 101 runs over a full season, according to STATS LLC. What’s more is the effect that his absences have had on the team. Forget the pitching and the financial constraints imposed by the owners’ divorce. A juiceless Ramirez is the single biggest reason — arguably the only one — the Dodgers won’t make the playoffs.

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Check these numbers, also from STATS LLC. With Ramirez in the starting lineup, the Dodgers are 10 games over .500. In 73 games without him, they are seven under. With Ramirez starting, the Dodgers hit .282, and score an average of 5.3 runs per game. Without him, they’re at .241 and 3.6 runs a game.

Your heart shouldn’t bleed for the McCourts. But they sure deserved better from Manny Ramirez. Now he’ll probably end up in Chicago, where the President will cheer for him, and he can star in a post-modern sitcom, “Ozzie and Manny.”

It’s an old story in baseball — ill-gotten gains. Mark McGwire gets hired as a hitting coach. Commissioner Selig, McGwire’s most prominent enabler, welcomes him back to the game.

Meanwhile, the McCourts head to court. They will tear each other up over everything but the custody of their erstwhile slugger.

Yes, looking back, they should’ve bought a smaller team, in a town like Milwaukee. Someone would’ve built them a statue.

Tagged: Dodgers, Manny Ramirez

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