Manny being Manny means not having to say sorry

Jul 1, 2009 - 11:26 PM By TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports Columnist

Manny Ramirez returns from baseball exile Friday, and the only question the Dodgers have is how soon he will be able to revive the team's suddenly anemic offense. Good thing, because it appears that will be the only question Ramirez has any interest in answering.

He's paid his debt to the game that made him rich and his dreadlocks famous, and he's moving on. There will be no press conferences, no explanations.

Dodger fans don't seem to mind. Neither does team owner Frank McCourt, who was last seen handing out All-Star ballots to fans with his star slugger's name circled on them.

Some day Ramirez will retire, and maybe he'll write a tell-all book that really tells all. Until then, we'll probably never know why he felt compelled to use a fertility drug when it's obvious his best child-bearing years are behind him.

Not that anyone besides the fans at AT&T Park care a lot about knowing the whole story.

Yes, Ramirez likely will take some abuse when he goes on the road to San Francisco, if only because memories are still fresh about the abuse Dodger fans gave the bloated one when Barry Bonds traveled to Los Angeles.

But they'll welcome him back like a rock star at Dodger Stadium, where Mannywood may be gone but Mannymania is only a home run or two from erupting once again. By the time the National League West is decided, fake dreadlocks will be back in vogue in always fashionable Southern California, and any talk about the legitimacy of Ramirez's home run totals will be long forgotten.

He was cheered by sold-out crowds at every one of his five minor league tuneup games. He'll be cheered every time he steps to the plate in LA.

It's become a familiar pattern in this steroid-fueled era, so it's not like Dodger fans are setting any new trends. Bonds was always cheered - if not actually loved - in San Francisco, Yankee fans couldn't wait for Alex Rodriguez to get back in the lineup, and the only concern about Miguel Tejada in Houston this year is that he has hit only six home runs while playing in a hitter-friendly park.

As reviled as he is by some, Roger Clemens would get a standing ovation if he came back to pitch one of his old teams into the World Series. And, even knowing what they know now, long suffering Cub fans would pack Wrigley Field if Sammy Sosa somehow decided to make a comeback.

It could be that we're simply a forgiving society, and baseball fans are the most forgiving of all. Maybe we're eager to embrace the dogma of McGwire and not dwell on the past.

Or, quite possibly, we want to be entertained and don't want to have to deal with anything that gets in the way of rooting for our favorite team.

That's the feeling I got when Ramirez was banished for 50 games from the first-place Dodgers. I was at Dodger Stadium that night and the talk in the dugout and the stands (yes, sometimes writers leave the press box) was mostly how the Dodgers had to hang on during Manny's absence and, boy, would they be good when he got back.

Hang on they did, and more. The Dodgers were 29-21 while Ramirez was taking an enforced vacation, and he'll return in San Diego to a team that is still comfortably in first place despite recent difficulties at the plate.

But LA is a town built on stars, and the Dodgers haven't had a star generate such excitement since a left-hander by the name of Koufax toiled on the mound more than 40 years ago. Little wonder that McCourt absolved Ramirez of any responsibility for his actions almost immediately and will surely be the first at the clubhouse door to welcome him back.

The anti-Manny, meanwhile, will head straight to the bench. All Juan Pierre is doing this year is hitting .322 and there's never been a suggestion he uses steroids. But he's hit only one home run in the last three years and there is no Juanwood section at Dodger Stadium.

Indeed, if there's anything we've learned from the era of juiced ballplayers, it's that fans pay to see home runs. We've also learned that they'll continue to pay to see players hit home runs even if they know they had to cheat to do it.

The return of Ramirez will simply confirm that. The high moral ground on the steroids issue has long since been ceded, and Ramirez will neither have to apologize for what he did nor explain what he did.

All Manny will have to do is be Manny once again.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org






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