Can Manny Ramirez still be Manny Ramirez?
As Manny goes ... so go the Dodgers?
Hey, they can win without him. They proved that last season.
But can they be great without a great Manny Ramirez? Can't see it. Certainly, there's no way you can expect it. You can't just count on all their young talent maintaining an upward spiral. Witness Russell Martin.
No one really knows what Manny's been up to since the season ended. If he's gained a pot belly, grown dreads to his buttocks, been investigating the latest in female fertility drugs.
In the last offseason, Manny seemed in the news more than swine flu. You couldn't avoid him. He was after a fat contract and every day seemed a Manny day.
This offseason, though, it's all but been a media blackout. Has he been working out at his Florida home? Returned to his Dominican homeland? Taken up sudoku?
Manager Joe Torre told L.A. Times Dodgers beat writer Dylan Hernandez Tuesday that he spoke to Manny on the phone four or five days earlier and that he was in the Dominican Republic.
"To me, I sensed an anxiousness about getting started," Torre said.
Torre blamed Manny's great drop-off last season on the 50-game suspension he served for violating baseball's drug policy. Prior to the suspension, Manny was batting .348 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 92 at-bats. After the suspension, he hit .270 with 13 homers and 43 RBI in 260 at-bats.
So his average was up pre-suspension, but the power was never really there. Not Manny power.
When Manny showed up in L.A. in the middle of 2008, he became the single most electrifying position player in L.A. Dodgers history. Every at-bat was an event. The stadium rippled with anticipation. And it seemed more often than not that he delivered.
Those were some crazy dramatics, and perhaps an impossible act to follow. Still, it was hard to imagine he'd go from a once-in-a-lifetime player to just another good one in the span of a few months.
Manny will turn 38 in May. Does he have another monster year left? It's a contract season for him, so he has all the financial motivation. After last year, he has all the psychological motivation.
In a National League overcome by parity, one dynamic player can elevate a good team. And for the Dodgers, that's Manny.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Steve Dilbeck is The Times' new Dodger blogger. You can learn more about him here.
Photo: Manny Ramirez. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press