Jovial Manny, Damon excited to join Rays
Former teammates expected to provide leadership this year
ST. PETERSBURG -- Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon were engaging and personable when addressing the media Tuesday as the newest members of the Rays at a news conference at Tropicana Field.
And the excitement inside the building was palpable.
"For right now, what these two guys do for us in the clubhouse and on the field, we've become a lot better," manager Joe Maddon said.
Each of the veteran Major Leaguers agreed to a one-year deal to play for Tampa Bay in 2011. Damon will be paid $5.25 million, with a $750,000 attendance bonus, while Ramirez will make $2 million. Both agreed to terms on Jan. 21, but each had to pass a physical and assorted paperwork had to be done before the deals became official.
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said the pair's "contributions extend beyond just the field."
"It's not necessarily them being rah-rah guys or giving impassioned speeches," Friedman said. "It's about how dedicated they are to their craft. And I think given all the homework and conversations that we've had about people, both of these guys are extremely well regarded as teammates, and also the way they prepare.
"I think that it's something that with our young players, just to watch them; watch the way they get ready to compete. They've done it in this division for a long time. And they were both excited to get back into the fray, get back into the American League East, and that's something that's exciting for us, because in our opinion, it's a different level in this division and it's something that you have to want to do. And the way both of these guys go about it, we think it's definitely going to help."
Damon spoke about the leadership aspect of the pair's arrival.
"If we need to speak up, we definitely can," said Damon, who also noted that the way he plays the game will rub off on his new teammates. "Over the course of my career, hustling has gotten me a lot more hits. It has put me in the right position in the outfield to back up plays, to help a team win.
"I think when they see the way I play and the way I go about my business, it's going to maybe put a thought in some of these young kids' heads: If they want to play for 15-plus years, this is the way to go about your business."
For Damon, the chance to be close to his family home near Orlando, Fla., was a significant draw.
"This is home for me," Damon said. "This is my dream team. My family and friends are always out there supporting me. I'll see much more of them. I really love this opportunity to come back home and hopefully help this team win a championship."
Damon, 37, played left field and designated hitter for the Tigers in 2010, hitting .271 with eight home runs, 51 RBIs and 81 runs scored in 145 games. He has played for two World Series winners: the Red Sox in '04 and the Yankees in '09. He has 2,571 career hits, 429 from the 3,000 mark. With the Rays, Damon, who will wear No. 22, will likely see time in left field, at DH and off the bench, while also adding a quality veteran presence to the clubhouse. In addition, he'll likely become Tampa Bay's leadoff man, a distinction that fell to disciplined hitting catcher John Jaso in 2010.
Despite his age, Damon doesn't expect his body to slow him down in 2011.
"I've been over 140 plus [games] for the past 15 years," Damon said. "I definitely expect to get there and hope to stay as healthy as possible."
Ramirez added his own spin on the number of games the pair might play in 2011 when he joked: "Let's do this: you play 100 and I'll play 62."
Ramirez, 38, hit .311 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs in 66 games for the Dodgers in 2010 before finishing the season with the White Sox, with whom he hit .261 with one home run and two RBIs in 24 games. He has 555 career home runs -- 14th on the all-time leaderboard -- and is a 12-time All-Star. Ramirez will likely be used as the team's DH and will give Evan Longoria protection in the lineup. On the surface, Ramirez, who will wear No. 24, should be a vast upgrade over Pat Burrell, the DH Tampa Bay counted on heading into the 2009 and '10 seasons.
|"Absolutely this team can win the American League East. What I really like about this team is [that] we have two guys that you would like to really build any franchise around -- and that's David Price and Evan Longoria. I think those two guys are two of the best players out there, and to be able to play with those guys ... those guys command a lot of respect around the league.|
|-- Johnny Damon|
Ramirez's salary of $2 million is well below the figures he's netted over past years, but after several down seasons, it was about more than the money to Ramirez.
"I already made my money," Ramirez said. "I'm here because I love the game, I love to compete. It doesn't matter how much you make. All you want is a chance to prove to people that you still could do it."
Ramirez, who reported being 12 pounds lighter and in excellent shape, fielded a question about what the old saying "Manny being Manny" means to him.
"For me, it just means be myself -- just go and do what makes me happy," Ramirez said. "Every time I wake up, I thank God for the kind of man he made me, because I do what's best for me. I try to enjoy myself. And that's it. That's me. You're not going to see no fake. I'm real. I'm going to have fun and I'm going to compete. That's me for my whole life."
Damon spoke knowledgeably about the Rays while addressing the team's possibilities for the 2011 season.
"Absolutely this team can win the American League East," Damon said. "What I really like about this team is [that] we have two guys that you would like to really build any franchise around -- and that's David Price and Longo. I think those two guys are two of the best players out there, and to be able to play with those guys ... those guys command a lot of respect around the league.
"Plus you have all these other young guys coming up. Desmond Jennings. Joyce. I mean, this team is bred to win right now. And this pitching staff. I saw that [Jeremy] Hellickson kid last year and he was really good. I put him at the top of the list among a lot of guys. He's that good. I'd say this organization has done a great job of finding the talent."
Damon and Ramirez were teammates in Boston from 2002-05 and were key members of the World Series championship club in '04. Those were magical years for the Red Sox. Their years together in Boston made reuniting in St. Petersburg an exciting proposition for both.
"We wanted this to happen ever since my departure from Boston years ago," Damon said. "We always felt great about each other, the kind of teammates we were. We know we can bring a lot of experience -- playoff experience also."
The Rays are hoping to recreate that Boston magic and put it to good use in 2011. If nothing else, the pair's arrival should add an element of fun for trips to Tropicana Field this summer.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.