The Dodgers were deep into spring training, and owner Frank McCourt was playing tough guy. He had to because, even though no one else had any interest in signing Manny Ramirez, he had to show agent Scott Boras who was in charge.

So at a dawn meeting at his oceanfront home in Malibu, McCourt laid down the law. If Ramirez was going to be paid $43 million to be a Dodger, the owner said, he had to act like one.

That meant being a leader, and staying out of trouble. No more Manny simply being Manny.

Tough guy, that McCourt. Smart guy, too, because you don’t build Mannywood for someone who is going to let the team down.

Ramirez, of course, did let the Dodgers down, and in a big way. Just a month into the regular season he was suspended for 50 games after baseball investigators found evidence that he was doing things that people who are trying to hide steroid use do.

I was at Dodger Stadium that night, and was expecting McCourt to tell us how disappointed he was with Ramirez and how bad the whole thing was for baseball. But the tough guy owner was nowhere to be seen, preferring instead to let Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti face the army of media types who wanted to know why Ramirez was taking a female fertility drug and how it might have helped him hit home runs.

I think I’ve figured out why. When McCourt opens his mouth, silly things tend to come out.

That’s what happened the other day in Chicago when McCourt told the Los Angeles Times that he would be happy to see Ramirez play for the National League in the All-Star game if fans were forgiving enough to vote the dreadlocked one onto the team.

Actually, happy would seem an understatement. The way McCourt was talking, he seemed ready to launch a campaign for his suspended outfielder.

“Do I want to see him?” McCourt asked. “Sure, if he gets voted in. It’d be a great honor.”

Yes it would. And, really, what better way to honor a cheater than by rewarding him for what he did?

You might think that someone who invested the better part of this year’s parking lot receipts at Dodger Stadium in someone who got suspended 50 games for cheating wouldn’t be in such a generous mood. Then again, McCourt is saving more than $7 million by not having to pay Ramirez during his enforced absence, and the Dodgers look like they will still be running away with the NL West when he comes back.

Thankfully, the guy who runs the team on the field makes a lot more sense than the guy who runs the cash register.

Torre is one of the more thoughtful people in baseball, and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks. In this case, he thinks Ramirez shouldn’t be on the All-Star team – and believes Ramirez would say the same thing, if only because he hasn’t played enough games this year.

Manny being Manny, though, he’s not talking. Outside of a few words to his teammates in a Miami hotel a few weeks ago, Ramirez has said nothing and done nothing to convince anyone that he hit 533 home runs without the benefit of modern chemistry.

That seems to be OK with the tough guy, too. McCourt apparently is going to allow Ramirez to return July 3 in San Diego without having to explain what he did or why he did it. Like Mark McGwire, he wants to move forward and not talk about the past.

That might work for the Dodgers, who still must have a lot of fake dreadlocks to sell. And if Yankee fans can welcome Alex Rodriguez back as they have, Dodger fans will do the same for Ramirez – as long as he’s still able to hit home runs, that is.

But make a mockery of the All-Star game by allowing a cheater just coming off suspension to play left field? Even if fans voted him on the team – he was fourth at last report – Bud Selig would have to step in and void the pick for the good of the game.

If all we do is forgive and forget without remembering the past, then Marion Jones should get her gold medals back and they should rename the Cy Young Award after Roger Clemens. Then they could build a statue to Barry Bonds to put next to the one honoring Willie Mays in San Francisco.

Good thing the tough guy doesn’t own the Giants. He just might do it.

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