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CLOWN OR COMPETITOR?

Please! What fool would not build a team around one of the best hitters the game has ever seen?

Love him or loathe him, everyone has an opinion on Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez.

So today, we present both sides of the argument, a little point-counterpoint on Manny Ramirez, from two Times staff writers.

Manny Ramirez can play for my team anytime. In fact, if I had to win one game and there was a draft to pick a team, Ramirez would be my first choice. Why? The guy is flat-out a hitting machine, perhaps the most devastating right-handed hitter the game has seen since guys like Mays, Aaron and Clemente played. And, he's a winner.

Coming into the World Series, Ramirez had played in 18 postseason series. His team won 11 times, usually because of the things he did at the plate. In baseball's postseason, Ramirez is sixth all time in runs scored, fifth in hits, third in total bases and his 24 homers are the most of anyone. Those numbers mean that not only does Ramirez show up to play, he shows up at the most critical times. The bigger the game, the better he plays.

His comment before Game 5 that if the Red Sox lost, it wasn't going to be the "end of the world'' is maybe why he's so good under pressure. And, you know, he was right. The world would've continued spinning if the Sox had lost.

But don't take Ramirez's comments to mean he didn't care. He has God-given talent, but there is no way a player can put up the incredible numbers Ramirez has put up if he doesn't dedicate long, hard hours in a batting cage to being the best player he can be.

Does he flake out now and then? Sure, I'll grant you that. But isn't that what makes sports fun? Isn't it great to watch Manny flip off his helmet for no apparent reason? Hey, I like hard-nose, get-dirty-and-keep-your-mouth-shut players such as Chase Utley, too, but I don't want a whole sport full of Chase Utleys. Put it this way, I like vanilla ice cream, but I like banana splits, too. They might not be good for you all the time, but they sure are fun.

So yeah, when he pulls some shenanigans like not busting hard down the line or not sliding, I'm willing to say that's just "Manny being Manny.'' Because I know that Manny being Manny also means Manny hitting big home runs, Manny delivering in the clutch and Manny leading his team to another postseason series victory.

Showing up when it counts most? That's about the most respect a player can show his teammates, his team and his fans.

tjones@sptimes.com

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