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Access Mannywood: An ode to Manny Ramírez with the Dodgers

As baseball fans, we all have that one trade – rather like that one teenage crush – that broke our hearts. Maybe it was a beloved veteran leaving town. Perhaps it was a vaunted prospect being bundled into a clumsy package. Whatever the semantics, we quickly develop ties with our favourite ballplayers, and it hurts like hell to see them wear any uniform other than the one we cherish most.

In my baseball childhood, back when I was an innocent fan of the Boston Red Sox, the trade that perplexed and depressed me most was the 2008 deadline day dumping of Manny Ramírez, who became an icon with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure, Manny was a recalcitrant distraction at times, but he was my guy, and my 13-year-old brain could not comprehend why Theo Epstein, the Sox’ general manager, was so keen to offload such a Hall of Fame talent. It kinda made sense in retrospect, but the debacle was borderline sacrilegious at the time, and white hot rage consumed me.

Through the impartial lens of baseball fandom, however, the sight of Manny Ramírez in Dodger blue was intoxicating. There was a blissful incongruity to his sudden emergence in Hollywood – a must-watch veneer, a decadent frosting, a fleeting genius. As if fuelled by vengeance, Manny pounded the baseball in Los Angeles, producing superhuman statistics and hauling the Dodgers back into relevance. In time, Mannywood became an epochal phenomenon, the likes of which we will probably never see again.

Now, 13 years later, I want to lift the lid on that Manny Ramírez blockbuster and analyse its residual impact on the cultural landscape of Major League Baseball. Buckle up, then, as we take a deep dive into the most jaw-dropping trade of modern times. This is the complete story of how Manny Ramírez wound up with the Dodgers, and how that quirky marriage lurched from sublime to ridiculous in double-quick time.

Why did the Red Sox trade Manny Ramírez in 2008?

While undoubtedly one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history, Manny Ramírez was also invariably a circus act wherever he went throughout a tumultuous career. Born in the Dominican metropolis of Santo Domingo, a thriving baseball hotbed, Ramírez displayed preternatural ability and was drafted 13th overall by the Cleveland Indians in the 1991 amateur player draft. Ohio duly became the next major stepping stone in Manny’s captivating metamorphosis.

Through eight cavalier seasons in Cleveland, Ramírez hit as high as .351, drove in as many as 165 runs and launched as many as 45 homers – all in different seasons. Along with Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, he injected fresh life into a wayward franchise, forming a potent powerhouse that drew mammoth crowds to Jacobs Field, the Indians’ new downtown ballpark. Manny soon transcended those mortal surroundings, carving a unique niche in baseball’s most rarefied pantheon.

Between 1995, Manny’s first full season, and 2000, his final year with the Indians, Ramírez ranked sixth in offensive WAR throughout baseball. Three of the guys who performed better than him – Edgar Martínez, Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas – are now in the Hall of Fame, while the other two – Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire – would be, save for persistent steroid allegations. Overall with Cleveland, Manny hit .313 with 236 home runs, 804 RBI and a .407 OBP in 967 games. Ramírez undoubtedly ranked among the greatest players of his generation, while an electric personality made him an instant attraction.

That is what the Red Sox bought when they gave Ramírez an eight-year, $160 million contract before the 2001 season. Facing enormous expectations from the outset, Manny delivered – and then some – topping 30 home runs and 100 RBI in his first six seasons as a Red Sock. Ramírez propelled Boston to two World Series championships, in 2004 and 2007, securing folk hero status throughout New England. Still, there was always a melodramatic sideshow with Manny, who outstayed his welcome with erratic and exhausting antics.

It used to be said that those who eventually delivered a baseball championship to Boston would be lionised forever. They would never have to buy a drink in the city again. Police cars would usher them through gridlocked traffic. They could probably run for governor without much opposition. However, that was not necessarily the case with Manny Ramírez, whose idiosyncrasies became liabilities the longer he refused to change.

The recurring episodes developed folkloric status, as Manny Being Manny – a theatrical production running nightly – took centre stage. Ramírez popped inside Fenway’s famous Green Monster to use the toilet during innings. He made ludicrous cut-off plays in the outfield, showing no measurable skill on defence. And he became something of a conundrum with the media, offering nonsensical excuses for erratic play. When the Red Sox visited the White House as reigning world champions in 2008, president George W Bush even played up to the slugger’s reputation. “Manny Ramírez isn’t here,” quipped Bush. “I guess his grandmother died again.”

In this respect, Manny was just never comfortable in Boston, repeatedly demanding to be traded and occasionally asking out of the lineup. Ramírez was unpredictable with the media, alternatively surly and loquacious. He was volatile in the clubhouse, simultaneously inspiring and befuddling weary teammates. And he was enigmatic on the field, mixing unprecedented feats with excuses, complaints and inconsistent effort. Manny was a paradox wrapped inside a conundrum, and Red Sox management grew tired of pandering to his every whim.

Indeed, as far back as 2003, Epstein explored the idea of trading Ramírez, often at the player’s behest. Manny was part of the Red Sox’ failed masterplan to land Alex Rodriguez before he fell to the Yankees. Then, at the 2006 winter meetings in Orlando, Theo met Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti to discuss a Ramírez deal, still attempting to remove a toxic cell from the Boston roster. Those exploratory discussions did not culminate in an immediate trade, but a spark was lit, and it eventually became an inferno.

However, in the absence of a much-speculated trade, Ramírez approached the 2008 season – his age-36 campaign – with a realistic chance of completing the deal given to him by Dan Duquette, Epstein's beleaguered predecessor. Amid mounting questions about his durability, temperament, performance levels and passion, Manny hired super-agent Scott Boras before spring training in 2008, issuing a clarion call across the league. Ramírez meant business, even if people still refused to take him seriously.

Playing under a morose cloud of speculation, Manny performed admirably for the Red Sox as his contract dwindled away. Ramírez hit his 500th career home run in May 2008, and he was still a persistent danger in the Boston lineup. Sure, niggling injuries crept in. And yes, Manny’s power numbers were slightly down on his usual levels. But the guy could still put a team on his back and carry it for prolonged stretches. Ramírez was still a premier run-producer, making the ubiquitous talk of trading him a little incongruous.

Nevertheless, Manny’s off-field shenanigans became increasingly bothersome as 2008 wore on. In one sorry incident that led to a club fine, Ramírez shoved Jack McCormick, the Red Sox’ 64-year-old travelling secretary, amid a dispute over complimentary tickets. Elsewhere, Manny also fought with teammate Kevin Youkilis in the Fenway Park dugout. Ramírez was a loose cannon, and the risk-reward evaluation of having him around began to skew towards discarding his poisonous persona.

While often regarded as a sabermetric savant beholden to big data, Epstein’s repeated success is actually derived from a balanced mastery of baseball operations. Theo was – and is – much more than a number cruncher. In Boston, as in Chicago, he had a fine appreciation for the intangible ingredients of winning ballclubs. Epstein held scouts, coaches and player development personnel in high esteem, and he placed a premium on clubhouse culture. Such a multidimensional ethos told the Red Sox to trade Nomar Garciaparra, a beloved icon, in 2004, and a similar edict enveloped Ramírez. Theo had seen enough.

With a promising core of homegrown players emerging – Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon – Epstein knew the importance of cleansing the Red Sox’ philosophy. Ramírez was a highly influential personality, and his capricious attitude could be a fatal contagion to team chemistry. As such, Epstein began shopping his mercurial superstar again in the summer of 2008, hoping to smooth the pathway for younger talents to emerge.

Removing such a behemoth from the lineup was sure to make the Red Sox less productive offensively, and that seemed illogical given the team’s all-out pursuit of another ring. Nevertheless, as the trade deadline approached, Epstein balanced that potential three-month loss against the prospective multi-year gain of his vaunted core learning from more exemplary professionals. It was undoubtedly a calculated risk on Theo’s part, but he stuck to his convictions. Manny Ramírez was effectively done in Boston – if only the Red Sox could find a trade partner.

How Ned Colletti pulled off the Dodgers’ iconic trade for Manny Ramírez

The day – July 31, 2008 – dawned bright and crisp in Chavez Ravine, the cragged enclave of Los Angeles commandeered by the Dodgers as their dysfunctional headquarters. The chief decision-maker of a sleeping baseball giant trying to regain consciousness, Ned Colletti woke early, his Dodgers team in second place, one measly game behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. The impending 1pm PST trade deadline inspired a mix of anxiety and excitement in Colletti and his minions, the Dodgers’ prolonged identity crisis distilled into a few agonising hours of deciding what to do next. 

In one sense, Colletti had an itchy trigger finger. The Dodgers were within striking distance of winning just their second division title in 13 years. Joe Torre, a serial champion, was the Dodgers’ manager, hinting at a win-now credo. Meanwhile, Los Angeles had its own promising core, built around Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Russell Martin. The Dodgers had not won the National League pennant for two decades, and an opportunity seemed ripe for the taking. Colletti was determined to make it happen.

On the other hand, though, the Dodgers lacked a killer instinct. Since last winning a World Series title, in 1988, the team had developed a penchant for letting stars – and eras – ebb away. Mike Piazza, Adrián Beltré and Gary Sheffield were symbolic Dodgers in this respect – starting something great in Los Angeles, but writing their personal conclusions elsewhere. A comparative lack of investment – first under the absentee ownership of Rupert Murdoch, then with McCourt in charge – left the Dodgers a shell of their former selves, living off past glories. It had taken Colletti parts of three seasons to get the Dodgers back within a sniff of contention, and every opportunity to play in October was truly sacred.

As such, upon assembling his baseball operations team in the Dodger Stadium offices on the morning of the 2008 trade deadline, the Dodgers’ boss faced an ephemeral dilemma: how to upgrade the team, in deference to the job done by Torre, while also appeasing hesitant ownership and a hungry fanbase? The brainstorm began as the clock continued to tick.

Earlier in July, the Dodgers kicked the tires on CC Sabathia, transformative ace of the Indians, but the big guy ultimately went to Milwaukee in a surprising move. Colletti and co. were never seriously intrigued by Mark Teixeira, the other prominent trade chip dangling in Atlanta, and the slugging first baseman wound up in Anaheim, increasing the Dodgers need to do something in repost.

Incidentally, Arte Moreno, the Angels’ cavalier owner, was perpetually beguiled by the idea of bringing Manny Ramírez to Orange County. As such, when Epstein began placing calls around the league, gauging initial interest in Manny, Moreno was suitably engaged. Ultimately, however, the Teixeira deal kiboshed Anaheim’s ability to land Ramírez, leaving other teams to negotiate with Boston.

When news leaked that Manny was willing to wave his 10-5 rights, facilitating a deal, the rumour mill shifted into overdrive. Back then, refreshing MLB Trade Rumours, a rudimentary website founded by digital marketing whiz Tim Dierkes, was the default mode of keeping abreast of baseball gossip. According to the site, talk of a Manny pursuit emanated from Philadelphia on deadline day, while the Mets – long linked with Ramírez – deigned to get involved. There was little talk of the Dodgers harbouring interest, but they lurked in the background, as ever, yearning to do something big.

As momentum gathered towards a Manny trade, one television report had Boston considering a three-way deal with Florida and Pittsburgh. The Marlins would get Ramírez, according to the story, with promising Pirates outfielder Jason Bay moving to the Red Sox. Prospects would be exchanged between all parties, acting as ballast. The Marlins had already explored flipping Manny to the Yankees – of all teams – indicating that discussions were fairly advanced. The hot stove was thoroughly ablaze.

By mid-morning, Ramírez was the deadline day story, inspiring frantic analysis and wild prognostications from the baseball cognoscenti. Manny sat watching ESPN in his luxury Boston apartment, unsure about the future. Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away in his plush, air conditioned office, Colletti did the same, twirling his moustache and pondering a landmark move. 

Sure, the Dodgers needed a bat, but their outfield was already jammed, with Kemp, Ethier, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre sharing playing time. With no designated hitter in the National League, Torre was already performing a delicate balancing act, so adding another turbulent force to that group seemed illogical. Yet, deep down, Colletti was a riverboat gambler, trusting his gut more than his calculator, and Manny Ramírez captivated him. Ned could not resist the urge, and he eventually got involved.

Following an email exchange with Epstein on a different matter, Colletti wished his counterpart good luck with the rumoured three-way Manny blockbuster, in keeping with general manager kinship. Epstein thanked Colletti, but did not sound overly optimistic about the chances of concluding a deal with Florida and Pittsburgh. Colletti sensed an opportunity to engage Theo in a little creative brainstorming, and before long, the Dodgers were in deep on Manny.

With his brains trust – including former Ramírez teammate Bill Mueller – assembled in one office, and with McCourt in another room, Colletti raced through the bowels of Dodger Stadium, trying to make a deal work. The Commissioner’s Office was also involved in the negotiations, needing to approve any transaction of such magnitude. Colletti worked incredibly hard to thread the needle, keeping everyone happy while hauling in the prized fish. A few moments before the deadline, he managed to pull it off.

Such was the stunning immediacy of these blockbuster trade talks, news of the deal did not leak to the press until moments before the deadline. In fact, some outlets reported the trade literally one minute before the cut-off. Ultimately, Boston sent Manny to the Dodgers, along with $7 million to cover his remaining salary, while Bay went from Pittsburgh to the Red Sox. Four minor league prospects – Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris and Craig Hansen – went to the Pirates as makeweight, while remaining options in Ramírez’ contract were nullified, making him an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. 

The deal seemed to work for all involved. Boston removed a clubhouse distraction while replacing most of Manny’s productivity in left field. Pittsburgh received four prospects in return for Bay, who was never likely to remain a Pirate once his contract expired. And, of course, Los Angeles landed Ramírez, a legendary player with a point to prove down the stretch. Manny, meanwhile, was finally freed from Boston, allowing him to relax. It was a fair trade that made sense for many reasons, but the baseball universe was largely shocked into silence by its unforeseen announcement.

“We figured we had to do it,” Colletti concluded. “There is obviously a point in time that you have to make a major decision. We did, and we are glad we did. Hopefully it pays dividends. We’re confident we’ve got one of the best hitters in baseball coming here – one of the best hitters of his generation from the right side. He’s a champion. He’s a winner. And we really couldn’t be happier with trying to make the club better.”

Welcome to Mannywood! Inside the early days of Manny Ramírez in Los Angeles

Upon learning of the trade, Manny swung by Fenway Park to take care of the administrative formalities. With the logistics arranged, Ramírez drove out of the ancient ballpark in a silver Mercedes shortly before 11pm ET. A few diehard fans lined the sidewalk, while cameras captured the surreal dénouement. Manny did not stop to sign autographs or pose for photographs. He had a plane to catch, after all, as the sands of time ebbed away from his Red Sox epoch.

Departing Boston Logan International Airport the following day at 11.05 am ET, on American Airlines flight 725, Ramírez landed at Los Angeles International Airport – wearing sunglasses and a white bandana – just after 2pm PST. Accompanied by Justin Taglianetti and Angel Pena, longstanding associates, Manny was immediately whisked away from the waiting paparazzi, functionaries bundling him in a car for a 20-mile drive through heaving traffic to Dodger Stadium. Upon arrival, Ramírez was welcomed by a star-studded entourage, including McCourt and Colletti, who showed him around the stadium just hours before a game against Arizona.

After meeting Torre and a gaggle of teammates, Manny made his way through the bowels of Dodger Stadium, seeking Mitch Poole, the team’s clubhouse manager. Ramírez was keen to safeguard his signature uniform number – 24 – only for Poole to tell him those digits were off-limits in Los Angeles, retired in honour of Walter Alston, the Dodgers’ one-time Hall of Fame manager. No problem, Ramírez figured. How about number 11? “Nope,” said Poole – Dodgers lifer Manny Mota wore 11, and that would never change. Next, Manny requested number 34, a tribute to David Ortiz, his Red Sox sidekick. Yet, as every true baseball fan knows, there is only one 34 in Dodger blue: Fernando Valenzuela, a beloved icon whose legacy loomed large.

Increasingly agitated, Ramírez asked Poole which numbers were available for selection. The clubhouse jockey suggested 28, and then 66, before the pair settled on 99. It seemed suitably emblematic – a quirky, commanding number for a quirky, commanding star. Manny had Poole prepare his new threads – baggy and hip, of course – then sauntered into the home dugout, where Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ living deity, ordained the team’s newest star.

In time, a podium was wheeled out behind home plate, and more than 200 media members thronged the stylish LA emblem painted onto the field. The Dodgers love to parade their biggest and brightest acquisitions in outlandish ceremonies, rather like Real Madrid welcoming each Galáctico to the Bernabéu. Manny was made for such occasions, of course, and he lapped it, putting on a show.

“Whatever happened in Boston is in the past,” said Ramírez. “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 – LA is a great city. I’m happy to be a Dodger.”

Speaking exclusively to ESPN Deportes in a side session, Manny was even more effusive, lifting the lid on his strained Boston divorce. “The Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me,” said Ramírez. “During my years there, I’ve seen how they mistreated other great players when they didn’t want them to try to turn the fans against them. The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martínez, and they did the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy. I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don’t deserve me.”

Indeed, Manny left Boston with a .312 batting average, 274 home runs, 868 RBI and a .411 OBP in 1,083 games as a Red Sock. Even at the time of the trade, though much derided, Ramírez was hitting .299 with 20 homers and 68 RBI – typical levels for a remarkable talent. Still, the Red Sox wanted him out, and thus, the Dodgers landed a 12-time All-Star, 2-time World Series champion and 9-time Silver Slugger with 510 home runs and 1,672 RBI in a glittering career. Even as Manny floated around Chavez Ravine, discordant in Dodger blue, it all seemed so incomprehensible. And yet, it was real. Mannywood was now a thing.

While Ramírez entertained the press and joked with his new teammates – including former Red Sox stalwarts Garciaparra and Derek Lowe – Poole worked feverishly behind the scenes to make the superstar compliant with the Dodgers’ strict appearance rules. Dodger players had to wear blue cleats, for example, as per team tradition, so Poole had to source a pair for Manny. A similar story involved Manny’s red and black glove, which jarred with the Dodgers’ immaculate palette. Poole spray-painted it blue, a makeshift measure that did the trick. Oh, and then there was Ramírez’ hair. Torre harangued him to cut it short, in keeping with another team principle, but Manny rarely listened. He had his own way of doing business, as the Dodgers quickly learned.

Notoriously aloof, even McCourt stuck around for the evening’s game, which drew 55,239 to Dodger Stadium. Within 24 hours of the trade, 30,000 walk-up tickets were sold in anticipation of Manny’s debut, and the ballpark came alive with his inimitable presence. Emblazoned with the number 99, wearing cleats borrowed from Russell Martin and hawking a spray-painted glove, Ramírez hit cleanup, entrusted by Torre to ignite a fire under the Dodgers. Manny went 2-for-4 in a frustrating 2-1 loss, but there was a seismic shift in the team’s approach. The Dodgers were to be feared again, quite frankly, and Manny Ramírez was at the heart of their dangerous proposition.

Just how good was Manny Ramírez with the 2008 Dodgers?

Manny hit his first Dodger home run in his second game, receiving a rapturous curtain call from another sellout crowd. He homered the next day, too, delivering in the clutch as ever. In fact, through his first 10 games in Dodger blue, Ramírez hit .475 with a .543 OBP. He got on base more frequently than he made out, in other words, becoming a reliable nucleus in Torre’s capricious lineup.

Nevertheless, contrary to popular retellings, the Dodgers still struggled to find themselves with Manny onboard. Indeed, through Ramírez’ first month in Los Angeles, the team actually fell further back in the NL West standings, lurking four-and-a-half-games adrift of first place in late-August. A great September saw the Dodgers go 17-8, however, with Manny powering LA to 84 wins and a division title.

In 53 regular season games with the 2008 Dodgers, Ramírez hit .396 with a .489 OBP, a 1.232 OPS, 17 home runs and 53 RBI. Between 1 August and the end of the regular season, Manny led all qualifying big league batters in average, OBP, slugging, weighted on-base average (wOBA), RBI, weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and offensive WAR. Quite simply, he was the most lethal hitter in the game once more, and the Dodgers rode his coattails into October.

Extrapolated to a 162-game season, Manny’s performance on debut with the Dodgers would have seen him top 50 homers and 160 RBI while hitting .396. We are talking 1994 Tony Gwynn mixed with peak Willie Mays and a flavouring of Murderers’ Row Lou Gehrig. Manny was still an adventure in the field, but he even stole two bases, rolling back the years to relive a phenomenal peak.

Yet, above all the numbers and statistics, the accolades and rankings, the way Ramírez did it made a profound impact. Every single time he stepped into the box, you knew something incredible was about to happen. Baseball exists along time-failure continuum, but Manny ripped a hole in that paradigm with the Dodgers, and it was must-watch television every time he took to the field.

Of all things, Manny Ramírez became a leader – in his own unique way – and the Dodgers followed him. The team was uptight before Manny, weighed down by heavy, historic uniforms and bound by Torre’s stern Yankee sensibilities. On his first day in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, Manny pumped up the volume of the communal iPod, instantly breaking outmoded rules while signalling to people that baseball could be fun. Get loose, Manny urged his teammates. Get excited. Get free. And get ready to win.

To wit, his exceptional performances continued in the postseason, as the Dodgers dared to dream of rekindled glory. In the NLDS, Manny hit .500 with two homers, three RBI, a .643 OBP and an absurd 1.743 OPS as the Dodgers swept the Chicago Cubs in three games. As Boston progressed through the American League playoffs simultaneously, talk of a cataclysmic Dodgers-Red Sox World Series captured the imagination.

As if motivated by this possibility of revenge, Ramírez upped the ante while facing Philadelphia for the pennant, hitting .533 with a .682 OBP, a 1.748 OPS, two more dingers and seven RBI. Alas, Los Angeles lost in five games to the eventual World Series champions, nixing the possibility of a Red Sox rendezvous, but baseball was back on the cultural radar in Hollywood. The Dodgers were back, and Manny Ramírez was chiefly responsible.

All told, including the postseason, Manny played 61 games for the Dodgers in 2008. He compiled a .476 batting average, a .604 OBP and a 1.574 OPS while crushing 21 homers and driving in 63 runs. If somehow maintained through 162 games, that slash line would have distinguishing Ramírez’ Los Angeles debut as one the greatest individual performances of all-time.

Indeed, when the 2020 MLB season was shortened to 60 games due to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown measures, a ton of research went into unearthing the best 60-game stretches in baseball history. Manny’s .476 batting average is the greatest ever through such a sample size, while his OBP was bettered only by Barry Bonds in 2004. Meanwhile, Manny’s combined OPS of 1.574 with the Dodgers in 2008 was surpassed in any 60-game stretch only by Babe Ruth, whose 1920 mark of 1.598 remains the staging post.

Of course, anyone who rubs shoulders with Bonds and Ruth possesses immortal talent, and Manny Ramírez certainly fit that bill. His influence on the 2008 Dodgers may not have trumped that of Ruth on the 1920s Yankees, but there are few contemporary comparisons worthy of debate. Certainly, few players have revolutionised a team mid-season quite how Manny did in Los Angeles, and it was a pleasure to watch his ascent.

How Dodgers fans fell in love with Manny Ramírez

“Manny and Los Angeles fell for each other like teenage lovers,” write Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg in Becoming Manny, their authorised biography of Ramírez. “He was enchanted by the city, especially its malls, but also its warm weather and laidback, multicultural fanbase. Accustomed to celebrities, and hardly as diehard about their jocks as Bostonians, South Californians granted him relative privacy when he left the park. Manny rewarded Dodgers fans with gaudy numbers and a division title.”

Attendances rose by more than 4,000 per game at Dodger Stadium with Ramírez onboard. Notorious for joining games late after fighting chaotic Los Angeles traffic, Dodgers fans began arriving early, especially to see Manny’s first plate appearance of a given contest. There was a buzz about Chavez Ravine with Ramírez in tow, as tired fans received a jolt of energy. There was something fascinating about watching Manny at work, his approach at once laconic and metronomic. Indeed, Ramírez just embodied Los Angeles so poetically – the oversized uniform, the shaggy hair, the appearance of having just rolled out of bed ready to dominate the world. The entire relationship was redolent of Fernandomania, which gripped the metropolis almost a quarter-century prior.

Keen to cash in on their newfound relevance, the Dodgers designated sections 51-53 in left field at Dodger Stadium as Mannywood. A ticket in that region, closest to Ramírez as he played the outfield, cost $99 – to match the jersey number – with the team throwing in a free Mannywood t-shirt for good measure. The Los Angeles Times later reported that more than 14,000 Ramírez t-shirts and 500 authentic #99 jerseys were sold by season’s end in 2008. And thus, the Dodgers relearned the value of employing a true megastar.

Another phenomenon swept through Dodgerdom at this time, too: people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ages appearing at games wearing dreadlock wigs, in tribute to Manny. The team sold more than 7,000 such wigs, which became hard to source. Supply could not meet demand, and the wigs were frequently sold out in team stores. Even as Torre gnashed his teeth, Ramírez bathed in the adulation, while sending people home happy each evening with stunning displays of skill and power.

To this day, YouTube is littered with grainy footage of Manny in a Dodgers uniform – 30-second clips filmed on calculators showing Chavez Ravine in pandemonium following one outrageous Ramírez act or another. Digital camera flashbulbs – now a relic of the past thanks to smartphones – greeted every Manny at-bat, as Dodger Stadium became a go-to place again. Ultimately, this was a marriage made in heaven, the likes of which we have rarely seen since. It was truly a sight to behold, and it spoke to a time and a team that will never be replicated.

Why was Mannywood so popular? Analysing a Dodgers zeitgeist

Even though Ramírez performed historically well in Los Angeles, and even though he oozed charisma with effortless ease, there was still another dimension to the Manny-LA love affair that made it so strong and enduring. To understand why Mannywood was so popular – why it so captured the pulse of a hungry fanbase and melted into the zeitgeist of a city – you have to understand the world in which it happened.

Back in 2008, when Ramírez rocked Los Angeles, things were a lot simpler. We were not inundated by so much choice, in all walks of life, and thus we appreciated the gravity of moments rather than quickly moving on to the next scandal, controversy or drama. In 2008, just 300,000 tweets were sent each day. Now, that number is more than 500 million. Facebook had just 100 million users in August 2008. Now, that mark rests at 2.89 billion. Google received 1.6 billion searches per day in 2008, a drop in the ocean compared to today’s quota of 5.6 billion.

Instagram did not exists when Manny Ramírez joined the Dodgers. Neither did WhatsApp, TikTok, Snapchat, Uber or Apple Podcasts. The App Store itself – from which those other apps were spawned – was barely a month old when Ramírez became a Dodger, while Spotify was still in its beta testing stage. In other words, Manny in Dodger blue can be seen as one of the last great sports happenings before the total takeover of technology, before our present vicarious malaise edged towards total domination.

News of Manny’s herculean accomplishments still spread in newspapers and by word of mouth at the office watercooler. People still shared stories of how amped-up the stadium was during their visit, rather than simply posting an Instagram story and waiting for the world to reply. People still recommended things back then, like a night in Tinseltown watching Manny and the Dodgers, as opposed to relying on algorithms to tailor every aspect of their lives. Manny Ramírez was on people’s lips, and that helped the mania spread like wildfire.

It is difficult to describe the power of this 2000s virality now, because the meaning of such a concept has changed so much. Things used to be bigger than a popular tweet or a ubiquitous video. Things lasted longer, somehow. There was more substance to things, more meaning. We got what we were given, rather than having everything crafted bespoke to our individual palettes, and that made big events all the more stratospheric.

We all watched the same thing, together, rather than streaming five different shows in five different rooms of the same house. Manny was on the family television, and people still gathered round to watch. People still gathered round to gawp and cheer and high-five, because Manny invariably did something wild, feeding the frenzy anew. It was a special time to be a baseball fan, and we will probably never rekindle that sugar-sweet rush.

Steroids, scandals and swan songs – Where did it all go wrong for Manny Ramírez and the Dodgers?

The honeymoon did not last long, however. Following the Dodgers’ 2008 playoff exit, the team worked hard to re-sign Ramírez, only for Manny to play hardball in protracted discussions. “Gas is up, and so am I,” Ramírez famously joked, angering some Dodgers executives. “We love Manny Ramírez, and we want him back,” said McCourt during the saga. “But we feel we are negotiating against ourselves.”

The San Francisco Giants kicked the tires on a possible deal for Manny, hoping to poach him from their bitter rivals, but those discussions never gathered momentum. Likewise, the Angels again spoke with Boras about his marquee client, only to sign Bobby Abreu instead. When Washington inked Adam Dunn, the other big bat available via free agency, Manny was left with few options. Despite talk of possible retirement, he eventually acquiesced and signed a two-year, $45 million contract with the Dodgers in March 2009, on the eve of spring training. Once again, Manny was accorded the Dodger Stadium dais, where he proclaimed “I’m baaaack!” in typically adolescent fashion.

Ramírez began the 2009 season well. Through May 7, he produced a .348 average with 6 homers and 20 RBI. However, on that date, Manny’s world caved in, as he received a 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) policy. According to reports by ESPN, Ramírez tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, a female fertility drug preferred by juiceheads to encourage natural testosterone levels while weaning off a steroid cycle. The baseball world was shocked to its core, as Manny’s phenomenal track record became shrouded in suspicion.

“Recently, I saw a physician for a personal health issue,” said Ramírez in a statement. “He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy, that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now, but I do want to say one other thing: I’ve taken and passed about 15 drugs test over the past five seasons.”

After seeking counsel from the players’ association, Ramírez decided not to appeal the suspension. During his enforced break, Manny kept sharp with Mota, the erstwhile Dodgers coach, at the team’s training complex. Facing a media storm and considerable public backlash, Ramírez worked his way back to Los Angeles via stints with the Single-A Inland Empire 66ers and the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. Manny returned to the Dodgers’ lineup in early-July, receiving a customary ovation from the Dodger Stadium faithful.

Playing under a cloud, Ramírez continued to make history, albeit with an asterisk etched next to each dubious accomplishment. Manny passed Mickey Mantle for 15th place on the all-time home run list with 537 career long balls. Manny launched a pinch-hit grand slam against Cincinnati on his own bobblehead night in Chavez Ravine. Manny continued to play, continued to hit and continued to carry the Dodgers – all while being lustily booed around the league.

Less than a month after his return, Ramírez landed in hot water again, thanks to a New York Times investigation that implicated him in historic steroid use. According to the Times, Manny was one of 104 major league players who tested positive for PEDs in an exploratory 2003 survey. Those samples were supposed to be anonymous, but a laboratory mix-up led to a scandalous data leak. Ramírez was joined by many household names – including Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and close amigo David Ortiz – on that ignominious list, but many of the stars collaborated to undermine the Times’ report.

“You guys want to talk about the game, what is happening now, we can sit down and talk for two hours,” Ramírez said when hounded by the press for comment. “If you want more information, call the union. Me and David, we’re like two mountains. We’re going to keep doing good, no matter what. Only god is going to be able to move those two mountains.”

Despite being engulfed by a media maelstrom, Ramírez continued to perform exceptionally well on the field, even though the 2009 Dodgers were again eliminated by Philadelphia in the NLCS. Indeed, through his first 162 games as a Dodger, spread between August 2008 and September 2009, including postseason play, Manny hit .402 with 40 homers, 125 RBI and a 1.314 OPS. Ramírez remained one of the premier hitters in baseball, but fans grew sceptical of the circus act before their eyes.

Furthermore, Manny finally showed signs of decline in 2010, his age-38 season, and that made the trademark histrionics slightly less bearable. In a campaign marred by injuries, Ramírez landed on the disabled list three times and lost his starting job to speedster Scott Podsednik. When the Dodgers ventured to Boston in mid-season, playing the Red Sox in a three-game interleague series, Manny was greeted with boos and a standing ovation – all mixed in together. In many ways, it was the ultimate approximation of Manny’s polarising mystique: right to the end, he inspired extreme emotion in haters and worshippers alike.

Ramírez went 5-for-12 with a solo homer in that Fenway series, but the Dodgers were unceremoniously swept. Indeed, when Manny was on the field, he still performed at a great level, slashing .311/.405/.915 with 8 dingers and 40 RBI through 66 games in 2010. Still, the chimeric anti-hero gradually outstayed his Los Angeles welcome – just as he did in Boston and Cleveland – to a point where the Dodgers felt burdened by Manny’s larger-than-life presence.

With a fresh batch of exciting prospects – Dee Gordon, Kenley Jansen, Nathan Eovaldi – on the horizon, the Dodgers looked to their future, and despite changing the culture at Chavez Ravine, Manny Ramírez was not part of that vision. The antics became tiresome, culminating in Ramírez being ejected one pitch into a pinch-hit appearance in what became his final Dodgers game. The following day, Los Angeles placed Manny on waivers, then traded him to the White Sox in a salary dump. And just like that, Mannywood became pop culture history.

What did Manny Ramírez mean to the Dodgers? Assessing a bittersweet legacy

When all was said and done, Manny played 223 regular season games for the Dodgers, logging 892 plate appearances. Among Dodgers who have at least 850 plate appearances with the team, Ramírez ranks first in slugging percentage, line drive percentage and wRC+. He is second in OBP, behind only Dan Brouthers, who debuted in 1879, while posting a better ISO than team darlings such as Piazza, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella. Manny also has the seventh-highest batting average among Dodgers in that specific pool, a testament to his supreme polish as a hitter.

Accordingly, in the modern era, Manny Ramírez ranks among a handful of the greatest pure hitters the Dodgers have ever had. Through a certain prism, Manny can also be viewed as the most potent slugger in Dodgers history. Alas, the drugs suspensions and rumours tarnish everything, while the ways in which his relationships soured – with Torre, ownership, teammates and fans – left a bitter taste in the mouth.

Nevertheless, certain Dodger luminaries are full of praise for Ramírez, whose contributions should never be forgotten. “He is pretty much the most unbelievable thing I have ever seen on a baseball field,” Clayton Kershaw once told the New York Times. Likewise, Colletti remains proud of the Manny trade, rightly ranking it among his greatest transactions in Los Angeles.

“Manny taught the young Dodgers how to win, and he taught them how to relax,” explained Colletti in The Big Chair, his recently published memoir. “Within the first couple of days of being there, he went from group to group, clique to clique, every three or four lockers. He’d pull a chair up and talk to people. He brought the clubhouse, which had been fractured and divided twelve months earlier, closer and closer.”

More than that, though, the Dodgers’ ability to lure Manny Ramírez to Los Angeles signalled that a once-proud franchise was still alive, and that it still had the sway to entice superstars. All that came next – eight division titles, three pennants and, finally, a world championship – began with Manny, in many respects. Undoubtedly, the procession of stars that have traipsed through Hollywood in recent years – Kershaw, Kemp, González, Puig, Betts, Pujols, Scherzer – would not have been possible without Ramírez blazing the trail. Manny showed what the Dodgers were capable of, and that legacy is still playing out.

Indeed, for all the hurt and frustration caused by Ramírez and his late-career foibles, his impact on the modern game cannot be overstated. Take, for instance, that idiosyncratic number 99. When Manny took those digits, he became just the second active big leaguer to do so, alongside So Taguchi of the Phillies. Moreover, before Manny wore it, just seven guys had used 99 in almost eight decades of number usage in MLB. By comparison, in the 13 years since Ramírez chose #99, 14 players have followed suit – a 100% increase in 16% of the time.

The Dodgers have still shied away from honouring Manny Ramírez in any tangible way. He has never been invited back to Dodger Stadium, nor has he been welcomed as a coach or instructor in the team’s system. This is perhaps understandable, given the devolution of Manny’s public image, but Dodgers fans of a certain vintage would at least like to see one of their favourite players acknowledged for kickstarting a new chapter in franchise history.

Of course, things worked out pretty well for the Red Sox, too, as the homegrown core Epstein incubated from Manny contributed to further world titles in 2013 and 2018. Meanwhile, Ramírez endured another failed drugs test while playing for the Tampa Bay Rays, before embarking on a surreal world tour, appearing for teams in Taiwan, Japan and Australia. By all accounts, Manny still has not given up on a major league comeback, even at the age of 49, but Colletti has since moved on to the NHL, making such a storyline unlikely.

Incidentally, in 2012, the Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramírez from the Marlins, etching that hallowed surname back into their lineup. It is a wonder McCourt did not insist on Hanley wearing #99, so the Dodgers could shift the backlog of Manny jerseys mothballed in storage. Then, six years later, Los Angeles acquired Manny Machado from Baltimore, inspiring trite and lazy regurgitations of the Mannywood tchotchke. Fans in left field at Dodger Stadium even unfurled a Mannywood 2.0 banner, tongue firmly in cheek, but there was only one Mannywood, just as there was only one Manny Ramírez.

In sum, regardless of the subsequent controversy, for three glorious months in 2008, there was no greater hitter on planet Earth than Manny, and he wore Dodger blue. That legacy cannot be accurately quantified, because it tugged at the heartstrings while also exploding calculators. Manny Ramírez was a force of nature in Los Angeles, even if the star eventually collapsed in on itself, like a startling supernova above the Santa Monica hills. Manny Ramírez was a law unto himself, but the Dodgers used that law to great effect, and they continue to do so today, as their winning culture becomes a paragon of baseball and business.

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