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Manny could give A's a lift, or drive them down

Ramirez's approaching arrival will add intrigue to Oakland's season @HalBodley
Waiting for Manny.

The countdown is under way in Oakland for the arrival of Manny Ramirez.

Barring any rainouts, the often explosive Ramirez's 50-game suspension will end on May 30 -- his 40th birthday -- and he'll begin swinging for the young Athletics.

Too bad "Moneyball," the book and movie, is old news because wouldn't Manny make a dynamite chapter?

Signing Ramirez for $500,000 could be a stroke of genius for general manager Billy Beane. Or maybe putting the controversial Ramirez in the middle of a cadre of promising young players could backfire.

It depends on which Manny arrives. If he becomes a mentor of sorts and can still hit the ball, it'll be a plus. But if it's "Manny being Manny" who shows up and his talent has waned, he'll be a huge distraction -- a negative force for a team that's playing better than most thought it would.

The A's, penciled in before the season for last place in the American League West, just completed an impressive 5-4 road trip with stops in Boston, Baltimore and St. Petersburg.

They stunned the high-flying Rays over the weekend, taking two of the three games at Tropicana Field to knock Tampa Bay out of first place.

Beane, the creative GM who was portrayed in the recent movie by Brad Pitt, has been up to his old tricks. He recently signed veteran third baseman Brandon Inge from the scrap heap after the infielder was sent packing by the Detroit Tigers.

Against the stunned Rays on Sunday, Inge drove in four runs with a three-run homer and a sacrifice fly.

Beane & Co. is hoping Ramirez will supply the same pop to a so-so offense to back talented young pitching.

Simply put, the A's are playing better than expected. The fragile confidence they've established shouldn't be touched.

Ramirez has the personality to help -- or hurt.

Manny appeared in just five games with the Rays a year ago and retired after violating Major League Baseball's drug policy for a second time. Normally, a two-time offender is suspended for 100 games, but because Manny "retired," his term was cut in half.

Ramirez is eligible to play in his first Major League game on May 30, when he'll put on an A's uniform with No. 1 on the back. As he says, "Everything starts with one."

Ramirez is currently involved in extended spring camp in Arizona. Oakland manager Bob Melvin says he will probably play 10 or 12 Minor League games before joining the A's.

How much the 12-time All-Star has left is the $500,000 question. In his prime, Ramirez was one of the most productive hitters in the game. He owns a .312 career batting average and is 14th on the all-time list with 555 home runs.

Melvin predicts once the suspension hits the 40-game mark, in about two weeks, the Ramirez buzz will increase.

"There's not much now, but once we get to that point, there will be a lot," said Melvin. "Five or six days before that, we'll probably up his at-bats in extended spring [camp] and then send him to Triple-A or wherever. Based on what he's been able to do, it shouldn't take him too long."

When Ramirez arrived at the A's camp in February, he expressed remorse, saying: "I made some mistakes and want to show my children I can correct them."

Those who know him well believe if he's determined to prove he can still play at the level he established during his 19 seasons, he'll help the A's. If he struggles as he did in 2011 or his unpredictable personality surfaces, his tenure in Oakland will be short-lived.

So far, at least in Spring Training, the fit was good.

"He was terrific," said Melvin. "He was the guy who actually led by example. He was one of the first ones in the cage in the morning and one of the last ones to leave. He knows where he is in his career and the affect he can have on young teams, teams such as ours. He's all for it.

"He seems excited about this role, to teach some of these guys what he can do. You saw what he did with Matt Kemp when he was with the Dodgers. He's got a lot to offer on the hitting end. No doubt about it."

Time will tell.

Ramirez says, "Sometimes you don't know what you have until you lose it, and that's what happened to me. Everyone knows my story. Now, I'm at peace."

During Spring Training, young second baseman Jemile Weeks told's Jane Lee: "You can tell he has the right frame of mind, off the field and on. In my mind, he's still got it. The power hasn't gone anywhere."

The A's have been waiting three years for a decision on whether or not they will be permitted to move to San Jose, where a new stadium would be built. The San Francisco Giants claim that's their territory and haven't been willing to part with the rights.

The A's have played in the Oakland Coliseum, a football stadium, since they moved from Kansas City before the 1968 season.

The Coliseum has made it impossible for the revenue-strapped A's to compete in the tough AL West, where the Angels and Rangers have payrolls of $154.9 million and $120.5 million, respectively. The A's have the lowest payroll of the 30 teams at $52.8 million.

"You cannot get caught up in the fact that there are two teams spending as much as they do. We're obviously not there," said Melvin. "It is what it is. There are a lot of teams with higher salaries and some not so much and we're one of those clubs.

"We just stay within the day and try not to look too far from where we think we need to be a month from now, two months from now. It's more about what we need to do right now."

Which leads us back to Ramirez and the hope that he has enough left to give the Oakland offense a lift.

Given Beane's track record and Manny's vow to put his misdeeds behind him, this could be an intriguing summer in Oakland.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for

Oakland Athletics