- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CLEVELAND (AP) - Behind trendy, white-framed sunglasses with rose-colored lenses, his dreadlocks pulled neatly together with a rubber band, Manny Ramirez walked to the front of the interview room wearing Chicago’s silver and black for the first time.

As he approached the dais, Ramirez adjusted the Velcro straps on his batting gloves.

Make no mistake. He’s here to hit.

“I just want to play baseball,” he said through White Sox bench coach Joey Cora, who served as Ramirez’s translator during a brief news conference bordering on bizarre.

Already, Manny’s being himself.

Ramirez, whose previous stops in Boston and Los Angeles ended poorly and amid controversy, began the next phase of his colorful career Tuesday when he officially joined the White Sox, who claimed the 12-time All-Star off waivers for the final month of the playoff chase.

Ramirez was not in manager Ozzie Guillen’s starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against Cleveland. Ramirez was weary from an early wakeup call and cross-country flight, so Guillen will only use him if needed and give him his first start on Wednesday when the teams conclude their series with a day game.

“He was up at 4:30 in the morning,” Guillen said. “That’s reason right there not to play him. He’s been on the disabled list this year. Why take the risk? Now if we didn’t win last night, we got 20 some hits, so that’s part of it. I don’t want to use him (tonight), but if we need him, we will use him.

“He told me, ‘Whatever you need, whatever you want.’”

Ending a media boycott that began in spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ramirez spoke only in Spanish to reporters, who wondered if he would conform to Chicago’s personal-appearance policy and cut the flowing dreadlocks he has worn for the past several years.

“That’s a stupid question,” Ramirez said. “I’m here to play baseball and that has nothing to do with playing baseball.”

But that’s been the problem for too long with Ramirez, who remains one of baseball’s most popular and perhaps most misunderstood players. After helping carry the Dodgers to the playoffs in 2008, Ramirez’s past two seasons have included a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test and a contentious final few months in Hollywood, which he transformed into “Mannywood” with his big swing and big smile before things soured.

Ramirez arrived at Progressive Field at 3:15 p.m., entering the familiar ballpark through the Cleveland player’s parking lot _ a route he took for seven seasons with the Indians. He pulled a wheeled travel bag and was followed by two clubhouse attendants lugging overstuffed Dodgers equipment bags.

Soon, he slid into his chair under the RAMIREZ 99 nameplate hung in Chicago’s clubhouse. As Guillen held court across the room, Ramirez spoke to a few of his new teammates, including pitcher Mark Buehrle, who must feel relieved that he won’t have to face one of the most feared right-handed hitters in baseball history this season.

Ramirez is thrilled to be joining the White Sox, who began the day trailing the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins by four games. He’ll be used primarily as Chicago’s designated hitter and could see some time in left field.

Ramirez had three stints on the disabled list this season with leg injuries. He missed 58 games, and because the Dodgers didn’t have the luxury of a DH, they decided to waive him rather than trade the superstar and get something in return.

Ramirez said he doesn’t begrudge the Dodgers for letting him go, but wonders why manager Joe Torre didn’t have him in the lineup more.

“I just feel blessed that I played for them,” he said. “I only played 60 games for them this year, but I don’t understand why I didn’t play more _ especially at the end.”

Ramirez was asked how he feels physically.

“Like a 25-year-old,” he said.

He said only God knows how long he can keep playing, but Ramirez said he remains driven.

“I still have that fire to compete,” he said. “As long as I have that fire to compete, I’m going to keep playing. As soon as that fire leaves, it’s time to go.”

Ramirez has long had a reputation for being lackadaisical. His casual stride and style make it look that way. Guillen is sure he will get the most the 38-year-old Ramirez can give.

“He will hustle. He will. You treat Manny with respect and he’s fine,” Guillen said. “All I want him to do is drive in runs. He will run. I don’t say he’s going to run like Juan Pierre. But he will run like Manny. I wish he can play every day, but I don’t know. He’s not 15 anymore.

“Right now, I can’t say we are a better team because Manny hasn’t played. He is not the same player as when he went to LA. He was the type of player who could carry a team in the past. Do we want that to happen? Of course we do. But we’ll be happy if he comes in and helps.”

It was hard to tell if Ramirez had cut his flowing hair, which has become as much his trademark as almost any of his 554 career homers. Guillen isn’t worried about Ramirez’s appearance and will leave those issues to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

“That’s Jerry’s problem,” Guillen said. “That is not in my rules. As a manager, I appreciate Jerry’s rules, but the only thing I can do is bench him. We brought him here to play. I stay away from that. If I was Manny, I would try to keep the chairman happy.”

Ramirez refused to address his fall from grace in both Boston and Los Angeles, two cities where his popularity soared as his home runs sailed over outfield walls. Each stay ended badly, but he insists that the past is the past and that he has moved on.

When it became obvious his days in LA were numbered, the “Mannywood” sign on the short fence in the left-field corner of Dodgers Stadium was removed and replaced with ads for an insurance company. Ramirez, though, said he didn’t see that as an end to his time in a town he said he loved.

“I didn’t give it too much thought because the checks were going to keep on coming,” he said. “Blue ones.”

Ramirez laughed a few times during his press briefing, his first in months. He couldn’t wait for this one to end, and he concluded by finally speaking some English.

“Can I go and get ready for the game?” he asked.

And off he went.