Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Manny Smells Green, Not Dodger Blue

I have no problem with professional athletes making obscene amounts of money.

They are the top of the talent bracket in their given profession. No, they're not surgeons, teachers or world leaders, but if you're going to criticize an athlete for making $20 million a year, you also better criticize the highest paid actors, musicians and other entertainers.

And if you're going to criticize entertainers, don't be a hypocrite - stop watching sports, television and movies, and make sure you don't listen to any music... Good luck with that.

If a professional baseball player makes an absurd salary demand and an owner bites, all the power to the player. Like musicians and actors, their value is dictated by the market, and until there's a system in place to better contain baseball's open market (ie, a hard salary cap) stars have every right to play the system for as much money as they can.

Manny Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras have been playing the Dodgers since the end of last season. So what do they do when the Dodgers finally bite, offering Ramirez a one-year contract worth $25 million? They turn the Dodgers down.

Now I have a problem with Manny Ramirez.

The Man-Ram wants a guaranteed four or five year contract worth $25 million a year. He's one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, but turning 37 in May, he's entering the twilight of his career. He's also got a reputation for only playing hard when he wants to, and sulking, moping and pouting just as hard.

We've all read about how well that goes over in a locker room - and if we haven't read it yet, we can in Joe Torre's book, "The Yankees Years," which came out today.

Maybe the problem isn't the money for Manny, it's Joe Torre. Knowing that Torre, now in his second year as Dodgers manager after 12 years in the Bronx, has such a flair for writing, maybe Manny's afraid that a one-year contract coupled with another Torre tell-all could dampen his future contract talks.

Not likely, I know.

The fact of the matter is, Manny Ramirez changed Dodger baseball. Before him, the city had so little allegiance to its Dodgers that the Anaheim Angels were able to waltz right up and change their name to the Los Angeles Angels. It's 40 miles from Anaheim to Los Angeles. That's two hours in typical 405 traffic. If you're lucky.

But when Manny came here, he gave the city's abundant Latin population a hero to rally behind. Families of 14 now had a reason to come to the ballpark, and even transplanted baseball fans like myself now had a reason to more aggressively cheer for their new hometown team. With Manny in the lineup, the Dodgers not only had a bona-fide bat as the heart of their order, but the owners also demonstrated that they have a will to win.

The Dodgers offered Manny a three year, $45 million contract in November, and the offer was ignored. Yes, ignored. (Hey Boras, did you check your spam folder?) Then the team offered him salary arbitration, and that was declined. So now they offer a one year, $25 million contract that will make Ramirez the highest paid outfielder in the history of baseball, and the second highest salary in baseball this season, behind only Alex Rodriquez.

And he turned it down faster than most of us could brew our morning coffee.

Los Angeles has a county-wide unemployment rate that is flirting with 15-percent, and the nation is an economic free fall. And Manny turns down a guaranteed $25 million because he wants a longer contract?

Here's a thought, how about earning your $25 million this year, then re-signing for the same amount next year? What's the worst that can happen, you might only make $15 million if you have an off season?

Manny Ramirez not only said no to the Los Angeles Dodgers' contract, he also sent a message to Dodgers fans, and baseball in general: The Red Sox were right to dump him when they did. The city he's playing in means nothing to him, and the money only means something if it is guaranteed til he turns 40.

Motivation? He has none.

That's a Man-Ram no teams needs in the backdoor of their clubhouse.

Welcome to the Dodgers, Adam Dunn, don't forget to send Manny a thank you note.

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