Jovial Manny 'in a happy place'

PHOENIX -- Manny Ramirez clambered up the stairs to a rooftop patio jammed with reporters, team employees and television cameras.

"Why such a big deal?" he said with a grin. "I played here before."

One day after agreeing to a $45 million, two-year deal, baseball's slugging clown prince arrived at the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training headquarters on Thursday morning. With the Dodgers' new Camelback Ranch ballpark providing a backdrop, Ramirez declared that he was looking forward to his first full season in Los Angeles.

Ramirez needed no introduction after leading the Dodgers to the 2008 National League West title by hitting .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he batted .520 with four homers, 10 RBIs, nine runs and 11 walks in eight games.

But the Dodgers decided to make his arrival an occasion, and Ramirez didn't disappoint with a performance that would have played well in a Hollywood comedy club.

"I'm baaaaack!" he said.

Well, not just yet. Asked when he might make his first spring training appearance, Ramirez replied: "I'm going to take it slow. ... I've got to get my Gold Glove ready, I'm pretty sure, you know that. I've got save my cannon for the season."

Asked about his batting order, manager Joe Torre said, "First off, you ask Manny where he wants to hit, and then you go from there."

Ramirez threw his arm around Torre's shoulders and said, "Where I want to hit? You're the one who makes the lineup, Joe."

At one point, Ramirez waved to Chicago White Sox players taking batting practice on a field below. When the news conference ended, Ramirez posed for photos with former Journey member Steve Perry -- a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan who nevertheless said he'd cheer for Ramirez.

Watching his client mug for the cameras, agent Scott Boras said Ramirez and L.A. were a perfect fit.

"Manny is a superstar," Boras said. "The performance is the battery for the flashlight. But he is also gregarious, comedic, witty. We have a standup left fielder."

The Dodgers also have one of baseball's most feared sluggers -- a .314 career hitter with 527 home runs, 17th on the all-time list.

All it took to sign him, after weeks of wrangling, was a 6 a.m. meeting Wednesday at owner Frank McCourt's house in Malibu, Calif. The session came after weeks of protracted negotiations that included starts, stops, offers and subsequent rejections.

"It's better late than never," Ramirez said. "It was a
bad economy. I got a great contract."

At times, McCourt's frustration with Boras surfaced. But it was forgotten when the parties met face-to-face.

"At the end of the day, it's not about who won or who lost," McCourt said. "It's about having the negotiations end up in a good place."

Ramirez gets $10 million this year, and $15 million in deferred money with no interest. A plan the sides discussed would have it payable in $5 million installments each from 2010 through 2012. If it winds up as a two-year deal, the plan called for $10 million each season, with three payments of $8,333,333 each from 2011 to 2013.

Ramirez has until November to decide whether to void the second season and become a free agent again.

Los Angeles' original offer was for $45 million in guaranteed money, including a $4 million buyout of a 2011 option, and gave the Dodgers the ability to maintain control of Ramirez for three years. It also did not include the no-trade provision.

Responding to a question about whether Ramirez is worth so much money in hard economic times, Boras said, "He's the L.A. Dodgers' stimulus package."

Indeed, Ramirez made a huge impact in the NL West standings and on the Dodgers' bottom line, with a big boost in attendance and souvenir sales, including No. 99 jerseys and fake dreadlocks.

Ramirez also will make a $1 million commitment to the Dodgers Dream Foundation as part of the deal.

"Manny can bring joy and happiness to lots of people in LA," McCourt said. "And I'm going to tell you, he makes me happy. He brings a smile to my face. We had a lot of laughs in the last few days."

The left fielder was believed to be seeking a four- or five-year deal that would take him through the end of his career. He turns 37 in May.

But Ramirez found it tough going in a recession-plagued free agent market, with the Dodgers the only team to acknowledge pursuing the 12-time All-Star.

Los Angeles announced last week that Ramirez declined its latest offer, a $25 million, one-year contract with a $20 million player option for 2010. That deal would have included deferred payments of $10 million each in 2011 and 2012 and $5 million in 2013.

Boras countered with a proposal that included no deferred money, leaving the sides about $3 million apart in present-day value.

At the time the Dodgers acquired him from Boston, Ramirez's contract was amended to eliminate the $20 million team options it included for 2009 and 2010. The new agreement leaves him with a small increase but likely fell short of what Ramirez hoped to gain on the free-agent market.

With his new deal in hand, Ramirez shrugged off questions about why he couldn't land a longer contract. He said he was happier in Los Angeles than in Boston, where his failures to run hard to first base on grounders generated criticism.

"Hey, I made my money already," Ramirez said. "I'm in a happy place, where I wanted to be. Actually, I won. I won getting out of there, because I'm in a great place.

"Sometimes it's better off to have a two-year deal in a place that you're going to be happy than have an eight-year deal in a place that you're going to suffer," he said.