When Manny Ramirez stepped foot into Dodgertown last July, he breathed instant life into a .500 ball club that sorely needed him. Not only did Manny provide Herculean type numbers but players, coaches, and fans wax poetic about Manny's ability to make baseball fun again.
Stealing a page from Max Patkin's repertoire, and being crowned the new Clown Prince of Baseball, Manny donned his big floppy pants, his silly looking dreadlocks and his refreshingly care free West Coast demeanor that turned the Dodgers line-up into the greatest show on earth.
Each day Manny's Emmett Kelley smile would rejuvenate a stale locker room, and from the second he agreed to wear number 99, Dodger baseball seemed, well, fun again.
Somehow, I envisioned Manny to drive up in a little Mini Cooper with blue and white balloons and out would pile Ethier, Loney, Martin, Kemp, Billingsley, Blake, and Pierre.
Joe Torre, standing by the side of the "car that never ends" would stand silently as the Chavez crowd would sit in anticipation. And then much to the chagrin of the wide eyed ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages would come watch Manny in awe.
Today, however, is a different story.
Manny will no longer be sliding into his big baggy pants or donning the Dodger Doo Rag for the next 50 games, and like PT Barnum said and we've all parroted so many times...."The Show Must Go On".
But can it?
Will the tight rope walker and the contortionist and the guy on the flying trapeze be able to wow the crowd and keep the show entertaining without the clown in the center ring?
Or will the not-ready-for-primetime players fold up their tent and close the show until next season?
Somehow there is a different mindset amongst Dodger fans having lost Manny the way they did as opposed to a 50 game injury. A difference in the mind set of the players than their would have been had Manny opted to sign elsewhere.
"The team must focus their energies towards winning rather quickly instead of licking their wounds if they are to weather the storm" said Dodger fan Don Bright. Don and I are co-members of Linked-in group Think Dodger Blue and chat Dodger ball at every opportunity.
"Torre has been absolutely terrific for the clubhouse. His in game managing style can be puzzling though, but nowhere near as bad as Grady Little's or Jim Tracey's. But as far as team morale he is the one skipper who can right the ship immediately."
The Dodgers took a big step towards that task last night as lefty starter Eric Stults painted the corners against the San Francisco Giants en-route to a complete game 8-0 shutout. The win marked the first Dodger victory in three games since Ramirez' suspension.
"Stults has done his job all season,” explained Bright, whose seven-month-old son was born the same day the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS by beating the Cubs in 2008. “Stultz job is to keep the team in the game."
"He's done this in past but historically his carriage turns back into a pumpkin around five starts. I expect it to happen at any moment."
Last night was Stults' sixth start and he went the distance. Stults raised his record to 4-1 with a 3.58 ERA after pitching the first shutout of his career.
"In order for the team to weather the loss of Manny they need the pitching staff to come up big. Wolf (Randy) has had some first inning troubles, some not his fault, but after that, he's been as good as Bills (Chad Billingsley)."
Billingsley won his first five starts of the season before dropping a 3-1 decision in his first game AMS (After Manny Suspension). The Dodgers also dropped their first game AMS 11-9 to the Washington Nationals.
Billingsley is 5-1 with a nifty 2.45 ERA after going 16-10 last season.
Wolf is 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA and is in his first year with the Dodgers. He was signed as a free agent from San Diego where he went 6-10 last season with the Padres.
"Clayton Kershaw will be one of the best pitchers in the game if he learns to pitch to contact and not try to nibble and strike everyone out. And Jeff Weaver just joined the rotation and was fantastic in his one start."
"Weaver had his best two years in the majors as a Dodger, and the Dodgers seem to be able to bring back an old Dodger (Nomo, Park) in recent years have some old magic for a year or so. Maybe once again."
"Of course both those guys are holding the fort for Kuroda (Hideki) to get healthy to take one of those spots. The fifth spot I can see being a merry-go-round all year baring a trade."
Kuroda is currently playing long toss after straining an oblique muscle in the Dodgers Opening Day game against the San Diego Padres. He had only given up one run in 5.2 innings. Kuroda was 9-10 with a 3.73 ERA last season.
Additionally, The Dodgers bullpen is currently the NL's second best with a 3.30 ERA.
"I think Broxton's (closer, Jonathan) so called struggles have been blown out of proportion."
"He now has total command of his slider to go along with his heater and has been sharp" explained Bright, who mans the Applications Help Desk at a major trading company when not changing diapers and watching Dodgers games.
"Moving James MacDonald back to the pen helped everyone get into the roles they should be in. MacDonald has been wild (14 walks in 16 IP), but it has helped the others pitch when Torre calls for them."
"Kuo's injury may be hurtful if Cory Wade needs to be used too much in the [eighth] inning"
I asked Bright how the team would replace Manny's bat during his 50 game hiatus?
"Forget what the line-up has done to date as Manny being in the line-up effects everyone. There is no doubt not having Manny in the lineup will effect the rest of the hitters."
"If Torre plays it the way I would, Ethier (Andre) bats third, Matt Kemp clean up, James Loney fifth. I think move Blake to the six hole and Russell Martin seventh. I'd keep Furcal as lead-off and (Juan) Pierre [eighth0."
"I'm not a big fan of hitting Pierre in the eight hole, but Furcal has done a great job at the top of the order. I'm hoping that Pierre can get on base and either the pitcher can try to bunt him over, or he can steal. "
Pierre, who will take over for Manny in left field, asked for a trade during the off-season when Manny was signed. He is now living a new life, however, at least for the next 50 games.
"Pierre has limitations that can frustrate you as a fan. But for now he's what we got."
"The batting order can't replace Manny's bat. They really can't. I just hope the others do a little bit more than they've been doing. Especially Martin. We need more power from Loney if we are to continue at the top of the league."
I asked Bright if he thought that Manny would be welcomed back by Dodger fans after his suspension ends.
"Wow, this is a hard one. This far as jaded as I am, I was still thrown for shock with this news. My emotions have range from forgiveness to I hope the Dodgers released him."
"In a sense, I just don't know what to think. It's been way too long since the Dodgers have done anything in the playoffs and last year was so special.”
"This year started off like it could be another '88 and it still could be, albeit tainted somewhat."
"I think the players themselves will for the most part understand and forgive and move on once he's back".
For the next 50 games, however, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls of All Ages...These are your Los Angeles Dodgers."
Minus the clown, of course.
A special thanks to Don Bright for volunteering to help me analyze the Dodgers. Don stepped up to the plate with the sacks loaded and two outs in the ninth and put one into the seats.
Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for the Bleacher Report. If you have freelance work or story ideas, please contact Todd at email@example.com.