Red Sox players discuss Manny's return

BOSTON -- If there's one person in this city who is going to show Manny Ramirez the love, it is friend and former teammate David Ortiz.

Ramirez returns to Fenway Park on Friday for the first time since he was traded as part of a three-team deal that sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31, 2008. He created his "Manny-being-Manny" persona during his eight seasons in Boston and it should be on display again this weekend when the Dodgers come to town for a three-game set.

The reception he will receive will likely be a mix of cheers and jeers. He was liked and respected for his offensive prowess and cartoonish antics while he helped the Red Sox win two World Series titles in 2004 (he was MVP) and 2007. But he'll also be remembered for quitting on his teammates at different points of his tenure in Boston, too.

While some of his former teammates had mixed emotions on the eve of his arrival, Ortiz had nothing but praise for Ramirez.

"I think people have got to keep in mind that we're talking about a guy that has a lot to do with two World Series that we won here, in the first place," said Ortiz. "This organization has tons of players coming through the years, and I think as long as this organization waited to win a World Series, having a guy like Manny, especially being the MVP in the first one, it deserved a lot of respect because of that and doing what he did, seeing things from the positive way. Come in here and sign an eight-year deal and shows up every single year. It's more than earned, respect from fans and things like that. That's the thing that me, as a fan would focus on."

Ortiz and Ramirez were one of the most potent 3-4 hitting combinations in baseball. After the trade, Ortiz made it known the Red Sox needed to go out and replace Ramirez's bat with another massive offensive presence.

The Sox tried to sign Mark Teixeira, but the slugging first baseman ultimately landed with the Yankees. Time and again during Ortiz's early-season struggles in 2009 he kept saying the Red Sox needed to acquire a big bat and he said again on Thursday that he misses Ramirez both on and off the field.

"Oh definitely, definitely," he said. "Me and Manny, we had a good relationship as long as we played together, and I learned a lot of things from Manny. Manny's a specialist. But he can turn things around in an organization because of the way he works. His work ethic is pretty impressive. People don't get to know too much about that. But if you look around and you see the way he puts himself together to play the game, it's just unbelievable. It's amazing.

"He works really hard. He's one of the best in the game. It's not because it was just a gift that he got from God. It's something that he earned on his own. And you know, God gives you the rest, and says I will help you out too. This is a guy that he works really hard to be a good player."

Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew played with Ramirez for only a season and a half, but quickly learned what Manny was all about.

"Manny is a little bit of a different breed," Drew said. "He's got his own little characteristics and he can be one of the greatest players at times, and other times, you kind of scratch your head. He's a unique character, that's for sure."

Despite spending almost eight full seasons in Boston, Ramirez seemed to erase the city from his memory after he was traded. His Red Sox teammates, even the ones he was close with like Ortiz, haven't talked to him since he left. That goes for even Ino Guerrero.

Guerrero, who is part of the Red Sox's major league staff as essentially a batting practice pitcher, is in the organization only because Ramirez got him a job here. His locker stall in the clubhouse was right next to Ramirez's. A week after Ramirez was traded he called and wanted Guerrero to move to Los Angeles but Guerrero told him no.

"He hasn't talked to me since," Guerrero said.

Prior to the trade, Ramirez's presence had become a distraction in the Red Sox clubhouse. After the trade was made, it was uncanny how many Red Sox players were sitting at their locker stalls, waiting for the media to ask questions.

It was obvious in their answers that while the Sox players respected Ramirez's talents, it was time for him to go.

"It became more public and he was more adamant that he wanted to go," said captain Jason Varitek at the time of the trade. "Things got to a point where he made it pretty evident that he wanted to leave more so than any other time. ... Those things weren't just words. He didn't want to be here."

Red Sox third baseman, and fellow World Series MVP, Mike Lowell was one who was critical of Ramirez at the time. Even when he was asked on Thursday afternoon to talk about his memories of playing with Ramirez, Lowell was quick and blunt.

"I'll give you the generic," he said. "His numbers were great and [fans] will probably applaud him. He probably didn't leave on the greatest terms, but I'll let the fans determine that."

Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who is now the cleanup hitter in the lineup, said he respects Ramirez's ability to hit a baseball.

"He's one of the best hitters to ever play the game, so you got to watch him and learn a lot from his hitting," Youkilis said. "He had a great routine of hitting. If you sat back and watch you got to learn a lot. He was very helpful in that. The one thing I learned from him was the routine of hitting and his approach."

During a game at Fenway in June of 2008, Ramirez and Youkilis got into a shoving match in the dugout. When Youkilis was asked on Thursday about players disagreeing with Ramirez that season, he took the high road.

"Everyone is different. I think you question everyone at some point. It's part of the game," he said. "He's just a different guy, but there are a lot of different guys in the clubhouse. As superstar you stand out a little bit more."

The majority of the focus surrounding Ramirez's return is how the fans will react when he's introduced as he steps into the batter's box (Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Ramirez will serve as the club's DH in all three games of the upcoming series).

"I don't know," said Dustin Pedroia. "He was here a long time and put up great numbers and helped win a couple of World Series. Who knows because you never know what the fans are thinking. It should be interesting, but I don't know what to expect. It's going to be fun to see what goes on. I haven't talked to him since he got traded."

It will no doubt be an interesting weekend in Boston and Red Sox manager Terry Francona put it perfectly when he said, half-jokingly: "I don't know if he'll remember I'm the manager."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.