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The 12-time All-Star’s career took a downward turn in May 2009 when he was suspended 50 games for using a banned female fertility drug. Injuries slowed him last season, when he hit a combined .298 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in the final season of a $45 million, two-year contract he signed with the Dodgers.

“Thank God, I already made my money,” Ramirez said shrugging off a question about how motivated he will be while earning just $2 million in 2011.

“I’m here, like I said, because I love the game, I love to compete. It doesn’t matter how much money you make,” the .313 career hitter said. “If you love the game, it doesn’t matter. What you want is a chance to prove to people that you still can do it. So for me, it was not about the money, I could have gone some place else.”

Maddon and Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman believe Damon and Ramirez will be strong additions to the clubhouse, as well as on the field.

Both have been contributors on two teams that won World Series titles and embrace an anticipated role in Tampa Bay as mentors to young players.

“Their contributions extend beyond just the field. It’s not necessarily them being rah-rah guys or giving impassioned speeches. It’s about how dedicated they are to their craft,” Friedman said. “In all the homework and conversations we’ve had with people, both these guys are extremely well regarded as teammates and the way they prepare.”

Losing players like Crawford, who signed a $142 million, seven-year deal with Boston, and Pena, who got a $10 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, Maddon felt it was imperative that the Rays needed to find some experienced help to help stabilize a mostly young clubhouse.

“For me, that was the one component coming into this season that I thought we were going to be lacking had we not addressed it,” the manager said.

“I don’t want them to come in here and think they have to do anything other than what they’ve done throughout their careers. I want them to come be themselves on a daily basis. … Leadership often times to me, that word is really thrown out there way too loosely. I think guys really lead by example more than anything within a major league clubhouse. Both of these guys have exemplary work habits. The success over the course of their careers also lends to credibility.”

Damon is a .287 career hitter who played is one of just five players in major league history who’ve appeared in 140 or more games for 15 consecutive seasons. The others are Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Pete rose and Willie Mays.

Ramirez got tickled listening to his friend answer a question about whether at age 37 Damon is still capable of holding up over the course of a 162-game season.

Damon answered diplomatically, noting his track record of durability and adding: “My body is my temple. It always has been. I’ve learned over the years how to stay healthy.”

Ramirez smiled.

“Let’s do this,” he said, turning to face Damon. “You play 100 and I’ll play 62.”