(Eds: Clarifies 11th paragraph. With AP Photos.)By TIM DAHLBERGAP Sports Columnist
The state of Rhode Island is having trouble collecting some of the millions it lent former pitcher Curt Schilling, another reminder why chasing celebrity is almost always a bad thing.
Schilling met with the state’s governor on Wednesday to ask for even more help, after his 38 Studios company missed a $1.1 million payment on a $75 million loan guarantee state officials gave him to lure the video game company from Massachusetts two years ago.
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Schilling was in full baseball mode afterward, refusing to answer questions about how much taxpayers might be on the hook for his business venture.
”My priority right now is to get back to my team,” he said.
Not sure if he meant the Red Sox or the Diamondbacks, two teams that particularly appreciated his talents on the mound. Like most others, I thought Schilling was retired, and had taken his talents elsewhere.
Until this spring, I thought Manny Ramirez was retired, too. He said so himself, just after being threatened with a 100-game suspension by Major League Baseball while trying to enjoy time with his new team in Tampa Bay.
He played in only five games for the Rays, with one hit in 17 at-bats, the kind of numbers that can force a hitter into retirement. As anyone who follows baseball knows, though, lack of production had nothing to do with Ramirez leaving the sport.
He’s a two-time loser in baseball’s doping game, busted while playing for two different teams. His 555 career home runs have long since been rendered meaningless, along with his 12 All-Star appearances. There’s no Mannywood at Dodger Stadium anymore, though odds are there’s a storage closet full of fake dreadlocks there gathering dust.
But Manny is Manny, and he is a name. He remains a celebrity of sorts, and, this being baseball, there figured to be a team that would chase him.
That the Oakland Athletics swallowed the bait wasn’t too surprising. One look at the fans scattered around the Coliseum on any given night speaks to the desperation of a team that can’t wait to get out of town. They can’t lure in people with amenities like swimming pools and erupting home run sculptures, but they might sell a few tickets with Ramirez batting cleanup.
He can’t play until May 30, which happens to be his 40th birthday. But come Saturday night in Albuquerque, you can see him in uniform as a member of the Sacramento River Cats. Get your credit card out now and you can buy a Manny Pack of tickets when they get home to the state capital, complete with a Manny Ramirez T-shirt, while supplies last.
The new Manny Ramirez is apparently cuddly and warm, kind of like Dinger, the River Cats furry mascot. Nothing at all like the guy who cheated baseball and paying fans in cities across the country by bulking up with performance enhancing drugs to hit home run after home run.
I’m sure the T-shirts come in kids’ sizes. Hopefully, they will also come with instructions for parents to explain why he is being celebrated.
”Well, son, he hit all these home runs. He also did funny things like talk on his cellphone in the outfield. We used to say it was Manny being Manny.”
”So, dad, why hasn’t he been playing? Has he been hurt?”
”Ask your mother.”
In case you’ve forgotten, the real reason Ramirez was gone from baseball was that while making an average of $22.5 million a year from/for the Dodgers, he tested positive for a banned female fertility drug used to mask steroid use. He came back from that only to test positive for a performance enhancing drug while playing for the Rays – prompting him to retire rather than serve the suspension. According to a New York Times report, he also was one of the players who tested positive for steroids during MLB’s anonymous survey testing in 2003.
Now that he’s unretiring, his suspension was cut in half to 50 games because he sat out most of last year.
It’s all been one big con game. For all we know, Ramirez has been juicing his entire career.
Of course, this is a new Manny Ramirez. He was contrite in spring training, the wife he was arrested for slapping last year standing dutifully by his side. He claimed he never realized how much he appreciated his family and the game until he was banned from it.
Interestingly enough, he didn’t say anything about using steroids.
The new Manny is being brought to you by Billy Beane, the A’s general manager recently celebrated on the big screen as the savior of all small market franchises. It seems to be nothing more than a promotional stunt, though when I called Beane to ask him, he didn’t come to the phone. No big deal, he was probably busy with his agent discussing plans for ”Mannyball: How Manny Ramirez and I saved the Oakland A’s.”
Maybe it will work out and Ramirez will hit 30 home runs and carry the A’s to the World Series. Maybe he’ll be the attraction that helps the A’s finally get out of the Coliseum and into a proper home in San Jose.
Maybe they have someone who will take his drug tests for him.
Right now the taxpayers of Rhode Island can’t help but feel they’ve been snookered in the Schilling deal. They bought into celebrity, and could end up getting burned.
So has anyone who has ever spent a dollar to watch Manny Ramirez play.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg