- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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BOSTON -- Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Johnny Damon arrived in the Fenway Park third-base dugout prior to Monday night's game against the Red Sox, looked at the large gathering of reporters, and said: "I figured I'd do it this way because I'm sure I know Manny better than most."
Damon knew there would be a lot of questions about former Red Sox and Rays teammate Manny Ramirez, who abruptly retired Friday after being notified of an issue under Major League Baseball's drug policy.
"It's a very sad thing that happened with Manny," Damon said. "I wish him nothing but the best. He was a great teammate of mine, a great player. I was just hoping we would continue to have all the fun we had, and for it to end so abruptly and for the reasoning, it's sad. I hope Manny's in a better place. I heard he's going to be traveling. He deserves to do it, after 19 years in the big leagues, it's time for him to walk away. Unfortunately it's under these terms."
Why did he think Ramirez would put himself in such a situation?
"I can't believe it," he responded. "I thought if you got busted one time, you definitely don't get busted again. Maybe I'm wrong. Believe me, it shocked us all."
Ramirez has spoken to Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon since retiring, but stopped short of apologizing for his abrupt departure.
"He was disappointed in himself, but he was also very kind to the organization," Maddon said Monday.
"He just said he was disappointed. He didn't apologize. I wasn't looking for an apology necessarily. I wasn't. He spoke to me kind of like, man to man, person to person, manager to player. So I didn't think he owed me an apology."
Damon said he has not spoken with Ramirez since Friday, but had been impressed by what he had seen in spring training.
"He looked really good. I was looking at him and expecting him to hit 25 homers and drive in 100-plus and be a big cog for our team," Damon said.
The two were teammates with the Red Sox from 2002-05, and Damon said he hoped some day Ramirez's number would be retired in Boston. He called Ramirez the best hitter with two outs and men on base that he's ever played with.
Damon recalled his last conversation with Ramirez, which came as Ramirez was walking out of the clubhouse. Ramirez told Damon that he'd see everyone in Chicago. Damon sensed something wasn't right.
"At that moment, I thought he wasn't going to show up, for whatever reason," Damon said. "I definitely didn't think it was this reason."
Damon compared it to the 2001 movie "Rock Star," when actor Mark Wahlberg walked off the stage saying he was going to the bathroom and never came back.
"It kind of felt like that moment," Damon said, laughing.
Mike Reiss is a columnist and reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Johnny Damon, a former teammate of Manny Ramirez, said he was "shocked" by the slugger's sudden retirement.