Reporting from Phoenix – Manny Ramirez shouted in Spanish across the clubhouse to Angel Berroa.
“I told them I’m not coming back next year!” Ramirez told Berroa, pulling his head back as he laughed.
Nearby was a group of reporters he had spoken to earlier Monday, after arriving at the Dodgers’ spring-training complex three days before position players were obligated to do so.
Perhaps Ramirez was amused that he could still make headlines by simply verbalizing widely held assumptions — in this case, that this season would be his last with the Dodgers.
“I know I won’t be here next year,” he said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just know I’m not going to be here.”
It is not because Ramirez does not enjoy playing for the Dodgers — he said he has had “a blast” playing in Los Angeles and that he wishes he could have moved there earlier in his career.
But Ramirez sounded unsure about whether the Dodgers would want him back and said he could retire at the end of the season. He turns 38 on May 30 and is in the second year of a two-year, $45-million contract.
“When the season is over, I want to see where I’m at,” he said.
Manager Joe Torre made light of Ramirez’s remarks, particularly the ones about this one being his last year with the Dodgers.
“Maybe me, too,” Torre said.
General Manager Ned Colletti took Ramirez’s remarks about as seriously as Torre did, but did not seem to share his manager’s amusement.
“You know what?” Colletti told a group of reporters. “With all due respect to everyone in this room and to Manny Ramirez, I’m not thinking about it today. I’m not worried about it today. I’m not focused on it today. It’s not a priority to me today.”
Nor did it seem that way for Ramirez.
Asked whether he envisioned himself returning to the American League in 2011 to become a designated hitter, he replied, “I don’t know. We’ll see. Let’s take it a day at a time.”
Ramirez said the decision of whether to extend his career into a 19th season next year was not entirely his to make.
“If I want to play, I play,” he said. “If they let me play, I play.”
Ramirez captivated L.A. in 2008 by leading the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series, inspiring “Mannywood” along the way, yet failed to attract significant interest from any other team when he became a free agent that winter.
Then, he drew a 50-game suspension in May for violating baseball’s drug policy.
He returned only to slump miserably.
Was it the two-month hiatus or was it because he was hit in the wrist by a fastball shortly after returning? Maybe it was because of the withering scrutiny he came under after being labeled a drug cheat or maybe it was pharmacological.
After 2008, when he hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 runs batted in over 53 games with the Dodgers, the sagging numbers in the last half of 2009 were stark — .255 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs over his last 68 games.
When the season ended, he exercised the $20-million option for 2010 instead of testing the free-agent market, where he was unlikely to find a similar payday.
His poor late-season form also influenced him to change his off-season training regimen.
“My whole career, I never hit. But after this year, I felt I needed to figure out a couple of things,” he said. “That’s what I did.”
But he denied that he was frustrated last season.
“For me, it was great,” he said. “I was telling myself, ‘Thank you, God.’ At least I was playing. That’s how I look at things. We didn’t make the World Series, but at least we were there.
“I think I did a great job. It was good what I did, coming back. What happened last year, that’s in the past. This year’s a new year, so we’ll see.”
Ramirez insisted the game is still fun to him.
“If not, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “We play the game because we played the game when we were kids and we still enjoy the game.”
Torre said Ramirez’s future will be dictated by how much fun he has this season.
“I’m sure there are things he wants to accomplish statistically,” Torre said. “Just knowing Manny over the last 15 years or so, fun is part of what he does. If it’s not fun for him, I think he’s going to have trouble going out there and being able to do it as a job. But I’d like to believe he’s going to play longer than this year.”
Ramirez downplayed how much his decision would be influenced by how he performs.
“I’m just going to wait and see how my body’s going to respond,” he said.
Ramirez said he weighs 235 pounds — the Dodgers listed him at 200 last year — and that physically, he does not feel his age.
“From the waist down, I feel like 15,” he said. “From the neck up, I’m like 43. I feel good.”
Torre said he would probably sit Ramirez two or three times every couple of weeks to rest his legs.
Ramirez, who insisted last season that his ability to hit a baseball was not eroding, said Monday that he was not sure if he would ever be the player he was at his peak.
“We’ve got to wait until September and check out the numbers and see where we’re at,” he said. “Today, we’re in spring training. I don’t know about tomorrow. I don’t know about three years. I know about today.”
Ramirez’s teammates appeared glad to see him, as they shouted at or walked up to embrace him.
“I’m 36 in Dominican!” Ramirez said aloud repeatedly, a reference to how some Dominican prospects have lied about their age to make themselves more attractive to major league clubs.
“Manny’s always the same,” said Berroa, who played for the Dodgers in 2008 and is in camp on a minor league deal. “I’ve known him for a long time, but he’s never changed. He loves to laugh.”
When his morning media session came to a close, he called back a Spanish-speaking reporter and asked him to deliver a message to the other journalists.
“Tell them not to waste their time talking to me,” he said as he laughed. “I’m not going to be here next year. Tell them to go talk to Matty [Kemp] and [Andre] Ethier. They’re younger and more handsome than me. They’ll be here a long time.”