Time to be a better Manny

He walks into camp on time, introduces himself while in the company of his family, his wife and their two boys, before speaking about the significance of his faith.

He says he now goes to church, and that he prays. And he adds that he signed with the Athletics because God sent him to Oakland.


He also says his name is Manny Ramirez.

He would like you to know he is not that Manny Ramirez, the one with whom we have become familiar. He is not the proud Dominican who unapologetically marched to the beat of his own drum. Not the guy who twice was suspended for violating Major League Baseball drug policies and faced a domestic abuse allegation only five months ago. Not the slugger who is infamous for his idiosyncrasies, including occasional lethargic jogs down the first-base line.


No, this is the new Ramirez. An enlightened, evolved Manny.

A God-fearing Manny.

If he's a Manny of his word, the Athletics could be onto something.

Unlike the baffling $36 million signing of unproven Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a massive investment for a franchise constantly deprecating its squalid life below the MLB poverty line, the signing of Ramirez follows tremendous logic, no matter what planet you might be on.

That he agreed to a minor-league contract at $500,000 for one year — pro-rated to about $345K when you deduct the 50-game suspension he must serve — makes Ramirez an excellent buy for Oakland's baseball division and an outright steal for its business side.

If Ramirez truly is committed to redemption he could be an all-around bargain.

It wouldn't matter that he's not going to hit 40 bombs, or that he's not going to drive in 140 runs or bat .350 or get on base 40 percent of the time. Ramirez is, after all, coming up hard and fast on his 40th birthday.

Ramirez is a once-fearsome presence Athletics general manager Billy Beane dug out of a distant corner of baseball's junkyard. Why not wipe the dust off Manny's bat to find out if it has any residual thunder?

If Ramirez is serious about his desire to create a more favorable final impression than the one currently in the mind's eye — getting caught cheating, responding by weaseling out baseball's side door, crying retirement — this is his first and last chance. And he absolutely realizes it.

Ramirez is thankful he has a job, and that baseball still is there for him. Maybe that's why he accepted jersey No. 1. It represents his fresh start, his new birth.

Whereas the old Manny, a star in Cleveland and a cultural icon in Boston, clearly took for granted his prodigious gifts, the new Manny speaks of learning from the error of his ways, seeking the spiritual over the material.

Whereas the old Manny was insouciant and cavalier, even as a grizzled veteran in Los Angeles, Tampa and the South Side of Chicago, the Oakland Manny is vowing sober dedication.


And, yes, he even concedes that some of us probably won't fall for the time-tested though often hollow "I'm a new man" trick.

Why should we believe him? Because shortly after his first batting-practice session, during which he sprayed baseballs all across the yard and over the fence, Ramirez uttered the most profoundly mature public statement of his 19-year career:

"I made some mistakes and I want to show my children I can correct them."

He says this with his sons, Manny Jr. and Lucas, as witnesses. And with his wife, Juliana, who persuaded him to turn to church and prayer, standing nearby.

This is a Manny we've never, ever seen. A Manny the folks in Cleveland and Boston and Los Angeles wish they could have experienced.

When a man offers himself up for scrutiny without batting an eye, it doesn't and shouldn't matter who is listening. He's not trying to score image points. He's speaking less to the audience than to those closest to him.

It sounds as if Ramirez, whose childlike behavior has simultaneously charmed and incensed, is ready to grow up and become a responsible adult who, by the way, can hit a baseball like few others in the history of the game.

Maybe it's the gray invading his hairline, or the conviction with which he expresses his rebirth, but he appears to sincerely intend to be a better Manny.

And if he also brings a semi-productive bat, the Athletics will have at least one significant victory in 2012. After so many lean years, that's worth embracing.

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