CLEVELAND -- Manny Ramirez's dreadlocks were intact, but his English-speaking skills had apparently abandoned him. Through an interpreter, the newest acquisition of the White Sox said he felt "like a 25-year-old." But after a 5 a.m. PT wakeup call on the West Coast and a cross-country flight to his old home to join his new team, the 38-year-old Ramirez wasn't deemed ready to play by manager Ozzie Guillen. And so the Manny era with the Sox began with a bizarre press conference and a spot on the bench. The Sox are paying Ramirez about $122,500 a game to help them in the final push toward a playoff spot. And on Day 1, they paid him to soak up his surroundings and possibly pinch-hit. He was in the on-deck circle in the ninth, but A.J. Pierzynski's three-run homer off Frank Herrmann made a pinch-hit appearance unnecessary in a 4-3 victory over the Indians.
The Sox hope the $3.8 million they are investing in Manny will be money well spent and that he'll be invigorated by yet another fresh start in his star-studded career. Though he opted not to speak English, a language he has spoken throughout his Major League career, Ramirez did express excitement about the opportunity. "I feel that I still have that fire to compete," he said through bench coach Joey Cora, acting as an interpreter. Yet when Manny spoke with Guillen upon arrival at Progressive Field around 3:15 p.m. ET, the manager wasn't satisfied enough with the conversation to place Manny in the lineup. Instead, Mark Kotsay was in the designated hitter spot and right fielder Carlos Quentin in the No. 5 spot that Ramirez will claim Wednesday. "He was up at 5 o'clock in the morning and tried to get here," Guillen said. "That's the reason I didn't think it was necessary to play him. Manny's been on the DL three times this year. Why would we take a risk for no reason? If we got two hits last night, I might play him. But we got 20 hits. I don't think I was desperate about it." The Sox were desperate enough for some DH help to take a chance of Ramirez, despite his quirks and his recent injury woes. Ramirez just returned Aug. 21 from a right calf strain that cost him 33 games of action. And though his overall numbers this season (.311 average, .405 on-base percentage, .510 slugging percentage over 66 games) are encouraging, Ramirez had just two hits over his past two months in Dodger blue. By the end of his L.A. tenure, Ramirez had become a bench player for manager Joe Torre, who started him in just three games in the eight days following his latest activation from the DL. Manny's Dodgers career came to an unceremonious close when he was ejected for arguing a first-pitch called strike in a pinch-hit appearance Sunday in Colorado. Ramirez, who will wear No. 99 in Chicago as he did in L.A., refused to discuss that last incident, saying only that it was "in the past." But he did speak fondly of his days with the Dodgers. "I loved the fans, I loved the city," he said, "but I think this was a business move and they made the move." Asked about the "Mannywood" sign that was recently taken down in L.A., signaling the end of Ramirez's brief tenure with the team, Manny laughed. "I didn't give too much thought to that," he said, "because the checks were going to keep coming." Now, they'll come from the Sox, who entered Tuesday trailing the Twins by four games in the American League Central standings and hope to make a move north in the standings with Manny in the heart of their lineup. "Manny can carry a ballclub," Guillen said. "He did in the past. But that was in the past. Do we want him to do that? Of course we do. That's why we got him. But I just want him to be him. We've got more guys in the lineup that are going to help him." As far as the famous dreadlocks are concerned, Guillen reiterated that it is not his place to tell a player to cut his hair. Guillen said that is in owner Jerry Reinsdorf's hands. Ramirez's hair appeared to be the same length now as it was Sunday, and he didn't seem inclined to cut it anytime soon. "I'm just worried about playing baseball," Ramirez said. "I'm not worried about hair or anything." This was Ramirez's first media availability since the start of Spring Training camp. He answered two questions while wearing sunglasses indoors before finally taking off the shades. He answered only one question in English, though he clearly understood every question. Guillen said Ramirez was a "very smart man" to use an interpreter. "Because he doesn't want you guys bothering him coming to Chicago," Guillen said with a laugh. "It's a very good move. When Manny was playing with different ballclubs, I don't think Manny wants to be a distraction. I think he wants to be one of the guys. He will be treated as another guy that is in his uniform. Most of the time, when you say you don't speak English, you're better off. But I don't know how long Joey Cora is going to help him. Joey Cora has a lot of stuff to do on this ballclub." If recent history is any indication, it's doubtful Manny will make many, if any, more public remarks during his Sox tenure. He's just here to hit, even if some have expressed doubt in his ability, at this late stage of his career, to produce as he once did. "I don't worry about what other people say," he said. "I think I can be productive." On Wednesday, the Sox will begin to find out if he's right.