Wednesday, March 04, 2009

How Manny's Deal Finally Got Done

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

By Jayson Stark

"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 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."


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