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Columnist
In America, we can cheer the bad guys
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 7/5/2009 12:00 AM

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Happy Fourth of July weekend, folks.

The most prominent images on television the past couple of days were updates on Manny Ramirez's return to the Dodgers and ads for the John Dillinger saga "Public Enemies."

There's a certain symmetry in that, don't you think? Like, 75 years from now they'll be making feature films about the notorious Manny Ramirez instead of the notorious John Dillinger.

Gangsters with big guns and ballplayers with big bats are romantic figures, though it should be noted that it wasn't a Louisville Slugger that killed former 2003 NFL co-Most Valuable Player Steve McNair.

Not much romance in that, was there?

Anyway, amid all else, this holiday is a reminder that one of our inalienable rights as Americans is to openly revere or revile rogues and rascals, a choice they don't have in North Korea.

Freedom means that in Los Angeles people enter a lottery for tickets to Tuesday's memorial service for Michael Jackson, a remarkable entertainer who at best was a freak and at worst was suspected of, well, being something much worse.

Consider L.A. alone these days: Jackson's death is being treated as a biblical event; Kobe Bryant has gone from settling a sexual-assault case against him to being a basketball icon; and now Ramirez is being deified despite all his baseball transgressions.

But, no, this isn't just a SoCal phenomenon.

What would Cubs fans tolerate from Milton Bradley for a World Series championship? What did Bulls fans tolerate from Dennis Rodman for three more NBA titles?

Just provide results and a few giggles along the way, baby, and worry about the rest later.

We seem to love treating criminals as folk heroes (as in the bank-robbing Dillinger) and creeps as colorful personalities (as in the substance-abusing Ramirez). That option probably isn't available in Iran, where you better laugh with the president but not at him.

"The Godfather" mob movies are among the big screen's all-time favorites here. "The Sopranos" mob series is among the small screen's all-time favorites. "Public Enemies" should be a big hit, too.

Similarly, Ramirez will be bigger than ever after being suspended for 50 games.

The Padres sold out Petco Field for Ramirez's first game back. Only public hangings attract that large an audience in some countries.

Ramirez, wearing the patriotic baseball cap that all major-leaguers are wearing this weekend, was alternately booed and cheered in San Diego.

It figures to be that way the rest of the season. Los Angeles will glorify Ramirez, elsewhere he will be vilified as a cheater, and in some places the curious simply will gawk at him.

Americans are going to follow Ramirez's capers the way they did Dillinger's in the 1930s - with a groan and a frown or a wink and a smile.

Some will want the bad guy to pay while others will want him to stick it to the man, meaning the FBI or Bud Selig.

Regardless, as Ramirez said Friday night, "It's showtime."

You think Communist China ever will have the chance to be entertained by a Manny being Manny, as disgusting as that can be sometimes?

Maybe it's just me, but I thank my lucky stars and stripes every day for having that opportunity.