Relieved, happy Manny is the Dodgers' No. 99, with a flourish
LOS ANGELES -- Manny Ramirez showed up at Dodger Stadium with a new attitude, a new number and a willingness to cut his flowing dreadlocks.
"I feel great, man. I'm happy," Ramirez told some 200 media members behind home plate about three hours before making his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. "Whatever happened in Boston is in the past. I'm excited, man. I can't wait. I feel like I took 5,000 pounds off my back.
"It's just a new chapter in my life. I'm happy to be here. That's all I can say. LA's a great city. I'm happy to be a Dodger."
The Dodgers acquired the future Hall of Famer from the exasperated Red Sox a day earlier, giving up two minor leaguers in a shocking three-team trade that sent outfielder Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston.
"I want to say something from the bottom of my heart," Ramirez said. "I want to thank the fans in Boston. I love you guys. I just want to move on. I'm thinking Blue right now, I'm thinking about the Dodgers. I want people to judge me on what I do here, not what I did in Boston."
Ramirez sidestepped a question regarding a report that veteran Boston players had told upper management that he needed to go.
Ramirez played with the Cleveland Indians from 1993-2000 before signing an eight-year, $160 million contract with the Red Sox.
"I'm in a new league," he said. "I'm just going to do my best."
When asked what changes he might make, Ramirez laughed and replied: "I'm going to start maybe stealing some bases. I don't go deep anymore. I just hit line drives to right field."
Ramirez has one stolen base this season -- his first since 2005.
The 36-year-old Ramirez, among baseball's career leaders in several categories, answered questions in English and Spanish before ending the availability after less than 15 minutes by saying: "Can I go and get something to eat, get ready for the game?"
Manager Joe Torre, whose Yankees teams went against Ramirez countless times, put the eccentric slugger in his customary left field and cleanup spot against Arizona's Randy Johnson.
"I'm like a little kid now, I'm kind of nervous," Ramirez said. "I'm just going to be Manny and play the game."
Ramirez, who wore No. 24 during his seven-plus seasons in Boston, will wear No. 99 in Los Angeles. Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston wore No. 24 with the Dodgers, and that jersey is retired.
"I don't know why they gave me 99," he said. "I wanted 34."
No. 34, worn by Fernando Valenzuela in the 1980s, isn't officially retired, but clubhouse manager Mitch Poole said: "In our hearts, it is, and in the Mexican community. It was 66, then it went to 99 in a matter of minutes. It was all through the agent [Scott Boras] and his staff."
Asked about Torre, Ramirez said: "I've played a lot against him. I'll let you know in a month. We went through some conversation."
Torre said he asked Ramirez how important his hair was to him and was told he'd do whatever the manager wanted. Torre said he asked Ramirez to "clean it up a little bit and make it manageable."
"I've got to cut it. I'm going to be looking like a baby," Ramirez said with a smile. "I don't want them to treat me different than the other guys. If they want me to cut it, I'll cut it. It will grow back."
Torre asked the same of reliever Joe Beimel in spring training.
To make room for Ramirez on their roster, the Dodgers placed infielder Nomar Garciaparra on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to last Monday because of a sprained ligament in his left knee. Ramirez and Garciaparra were teammates in Boston from 2001-04.
They exchanged greetings in the clubhouse.
"It was good to see him," Garciaparra said. "I told him we'd catch up later."
Regarding the need for Ramirez to leave Boston, Garciaparra said: "You have to separate the desire to get out of Boston and the desire to get out of the situation."
Ramirez asked to be traded several times in recent years. The Red Sox will pay the estimated $7 million owed to Ramirez through the end of the season, at which time he can become a free agent. Ramirez was in the final guaranteed year of his contract, and the Red Sox held $20 million options for the next two seasons. Those were eliminated with the trade.
"Anything is possible now," Ramirez said, when asked if he hoped to finish his career with the Dodgers. "I'm just going to play hard. We'll see what happens."
Boras said what happens beyond this season hasn't been discussed.
"Our entire focus, believe me, was resolving the situation," the agent said.
Among active players, Ramirez ranks third in RBIs (1,672), fifth in home runs (510), sixth in on-base percentage (.409) and seventh in batting average (.312). He also ranks eighth in baseball history, and second among active players behind only Albert Pujols (.620), with a .590 slugging percentage. His 2,318 hits rank 10th among active players and his 493 doubles are tied for fourth.
Ramirez was MVP of the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox became champions for the first time in 86 years, and played a key role in another World Series triumph last year.
"He'll make a difference in any lineup," Garciaparra said. "The best lineups in baseball, he'll have an impact."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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