Commentary

How Manny's deal finally got done

L.A. expects Ramirez to commit himself, become 'a full-fledged Dodger'

Originally Published: March 4, 2009
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

"We want to say yes."

With those five words, uttered over the phone Monday night by Scott Boras to Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, it was over.

Well, not totally over. Manny Ramirez wasn't a Dodger. Not yet.

But the four-month war of wills -- and words -- that had chewed up the Dodgers' entire winter, that was finally over. Manny was ready to make a deal. Boras was ready to make a deal. And the Dodgers were more than ready to make a deal.

That Monday night phone call, sources say, was what led to the face-to-face meeting Tuesday between McCourt and Boras and what brought the two sides within sight of the two-year, $45 million contract Ramirez agreed to Wednesday.

"We want to say yes," Boras told McCourt.

"Yes to what?" the owner replied.

"To the offer you made Wednesday," Boras told him.

Technically, of course, the offer the Dodgers had made five days earlier -- $25 million of the $45 million deferred with no interest, and none of those world-famous Scott Boras incentive clauses, either -- was no longer even on the table.

Technically, McCourt had gone on record as saying that any further negotiations would have to "start from scratch."

But when it was clear to McCourt that Boras no longer wanted to play games -- not the Match The A-Rod Deal Game, not even the We Don't Do No-Interest Deferrals Game -- the owner clearly had no second thoughts about putting his offer right back on that table.

Frank McCourt & Manny Ramirez
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireFrank McCourt wanted more than a signature from Manny Ramirez. He wanted a commitment.

He had made his point, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. He had no reason, at that juncture, to lowball Manny -- other than to continue messing with Boras, just to rub it in his kisser.

And McCourt wasn't in this for style points. He was in this to sign Ramirez. Period.

Through all the insanity of these negotiations -- a four-month journey that took the two sides on a surreal, circular route to virtually the same place they had started -- that was really all the Dodgers ever wanted.

They didn't really want Adam Dunn. They didn't really want Bobby Abreu. They didn't really want anybody playing in left field for L.A. this summer except Manny. That became obvious over time.

And now there's reason to wonder whether Manny really wanted to go anywhere else.

Oh, he might have taken the Yankees' money, if there had been enough of it. He might have taken the Mets' money, or the Giants' money, or the Phillies' money. But that money was never there anyway. So it's all a moot point.

And even if Ramirez had taken it, his friends have made it clear -- and Manny himself seemed to make it clear, in his interview with the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers this week -- that he knew L.A. was the place he fit best.

Intuitively, that's what the team brass had believed all along. That's why the Dodgers waited all those months for Ramirez to sort through the negotiating smoke screens and come back to the one place left in America where they didn't merely accept him for what he was. They worshipped him.

But when Boras called McCourt on Monday night, the owner merely suggested they meet the next day for breakfast.

And when they did, at a restaurant in Beverly Hills, and Boras reiterated a desire to end the madness, it's notable that the owner didn't immediately say, "Great. Sign here." Instead, according to sources, McCourt told Boras he wanted more than Manny's signature.

He wanted a commitment.

A commitment to the Dodgers' culture. A commitment to the Dodgers' fans. A commitment to the Dodgers' community. And he wanted Manny to back up that commitment with a $1 million contribution to the Dodgers Dream Foundation, a fund established by McCourt and his team president (and wife), Jamie, to build baseball fields throughout the Los Angeles area.

McCourt also made it clear the Dodgers didn't want a guy who believed he could just show up for a few hours every day and play baseball. They wanted him to commit to being "a full-fledged Dodger."

That meant being a leader. It meant setting an example for younger players. It meant interacting with fans, making appearances, being more than merely a guy who swung the bat four times a night.

Boras listened to all this and told McCourt, "You need to say this to Manny."

He then placed a call to Ramirez, and that led the star of this show to bolt for the airport Tuesday afternoon for a flight to L.A. He would be there to take his physical. But first, and more important, he would be there to meet with the three men who had to sign off on the largest salary in Dodgers history -- McCourt, GM Ned Colletti and manager Joe Torre.

That meeting took place Wednesday at McCourt's beachfront house in Malibu, before the sun had even risen. By 6 a.m., McCourt, Colletti and Torre had already welcomed Boras, Ramirez and Boras' aide, Mike Fiore.

The Dodgers laid out their vision of those commitments they wanted from Manny. But they also laid out what they viewed as their commitment to him.

Their vision was a man who would become, essentially, the centerpiece of their franchise. They talked about the charisma he had exuded during the summer that energized their team and the people who followed it. They talked about the leadership he'd brought to their clubhouse.

They talked about the championships they hoped he would lead them to and the impact they thought he could make on kids throughout their community, just by appearing at the opening of the DreamFields he would help them build and by encouraging kids to follow their own dreams.

But that wasn't all.

They also talked about the shenanigans Ramirez had pulled in Boston before he ever reached L.A. They talked about the damage he had done to his image. And they needed to know, they said, that there would be no encores of that act.

Ramirez gave his promise: no more stunts. No more problems. He knew how people outside Los Angeles felt about him, he said. And this was going to be his chance to rewrite that story and fix that damaged image.

Colletti, according to one source, talked about the tremendous Cleveland chapter of Manny's career. Then he talked about the numbers Manny had put up and the two World Series he had won in the Boston segment of his career.

What they wanted now, the GM said -- what they all wanted -- was for the Los Angeles portion of his career to be the best part of all. And Manny told them he wanted that, too.

By 7:30 a.m., Torre, Colletti and McCourt had heard what they wanted to hear, heard what they needed to hear. And by the time they rose from their chairs, they knew Manny was going to be a Dodger -- those medical reports willing.

It had been a rough four months, an occasionally nasty four months. There was no fun to be had in one of the longest, testiest free-agent negotiations in history.

But by dawn Wednesday morning, it all seemed to have melted away -- the anger, the rhetoric and the posturing; the mystery teams, the agent's wait for those "serious offers" to start rolling in and the shock waves that emanated from the owner's dictating his unforgettable we-won't-negotiate-against-ourselves news release.

It's amazing how that happens, isn't it? In the end, Manny wound up where he wanted to play. And the Dodgers wound up with the one free agent they wanted most.

In the end, the Dodgers probably won this negotiating imbroglio. But it was hard not to notice that they were careful not to declare victory.

Manny Ramirez was ready to play baseball. And the Dodgers were ready to watch him play baseball.

The offseason from hell was over. Finally. Gentlemen, start your dreadlocks.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com