Que up the theme music from the Empire Strikes Back…

Ok. You had to know I wasn’t going to let this one lie.

So, Alex Rodriguez is a New York Yankee. The thoughts I’ve had about this over the past two days couldn’t be characterized as anything but conflicted. The man considered by nearly everyone to be the best there is in the game today is now a part of the evil empire. Here’s what A-Rod does to the Yankees’ lineup as of today:

1. Kenny Lofton

2. Derek Jeter

3. Jason Giambi

4. Alex Rodriguez

5. Gary Sheffield

6. Jorge Posada

7. Bernie Williams

8. Hideki Matsui

9. whoever wins the job at 2nd

Holy Christ on a cracker. If there weren’t so many questions about how the Yankees’ starting rotation is going to perform minus Clemens, Petitte and Wells I’d say this years’ NY Yankees team is just about as good a lock on the championship as any team can be a week before spring training starts. This is a Yankees squad on par with the great teams of the 1930s with Ruth and Gehrig in the lineup. Never mind that the Red Sox have armed themselves for bear this offseason too, or that the Orioles aren’t looking too shabby either. Jesus Marimba, that’s a frightening lineup.

That’s the conflict-generating part. I’m awed by the commitment to winning that Mr. Steinbrenner (yes, after this, it’s definitely Mr. Steinbrenner) has shown with this trade. If the man goes out and finds himself a 2nd baseman to match-up with these guys then we probably should create some sort of special award for him, or just hand him the damned championship trophy and be done with it. 

But as awed as I am by this I’m also equally annoyed. Once again Alex Rodriguez finds himself in the middle of a perfect illustration of everything that is screwed up about the economics of Major League Baseball. The Red Sox wanted him bad a couple of months ago but they, even with their drive to win and deep pockets, couldn’t pull the trigger and pay the man what his contract says he’s owed. The Players’ Association couldn’t allow A-Rod to restructure his contract because it would have set some very bad precedents that would no doubt have been used in the future to truly screw someone else with a far less hefty contract. The fact remains that as great a player as Alex Rodriguez is, he’s grossly overpaid. That’s his fault, the fault of his agent, Scott Boras, and the fault of Tom Hicks, the owner of the Texas Rangers. It’s A-Rod’s fault for allowing his agent to care more about how much he got in his contract than about where that contract committed him to play. It’s Boras’ fault because he’s the epitome of greed in professional sports that discounts everything except money instead of acting conscientiously to protect not only the agent’s client, but the game itself from shortsightedness. Tom Hicks was just dumb. Someone once said, very wisely, that baseball turns people who are brilliant businesspeople into fools. Tom Hicks is a perfect example. He obviously is capable of doing math and handling the concepts of corporate finance. Otherwise he wouldn’t have had the money to buy a pro baseball franchise in the first place, but once in the owner’s seat, Tom Hicks, equally obviously, lost the ability to do even simple math. Pay one player $240 million and you’re not going to have a lot left over to pay for a pitching staff unless you happen to be George Steinbrenner and your team plays in the biggest TV market in the world. 

This time it’s a bit of a different story. Instead of one stupid owner overpaying for one player for a team whose economics couldn’t afford to support his salary and pay for anyone else’s at the same time, now it’s about the richest team in the game buying the contract of the best player in the game because their third baseman wrecked his knee in a game of pickup basketball. If Eric Chavez tore his ACL playing basketball do you know what the A’s would do? Suffer. That’s right. If Eric Hinske pulled up lame what would the Blue Jays do? Suffer. I could keep this up all night. The monumental unfairness illustrated by the fact that when Aaron Boone tore his ACL playing basketball the Yankees went out and replaced him with the best shortstop in professional baseball, who also happens to be the highest paid player in professional baseball, is, in and of itself, awe inspiring. Think about it. The Yankees didn’t even replace their third baseman with a third baseman. They replaced him with THE BEST SHORTSTOP IN THE GAME. 

The mind simply boggles. 

Then the mind warps. It warps when it realizes that the best third baseman in the American League, Eric Chavez, is in the last year of his contract with the A’s, a team that has been consistently unable/unwilling to retain its best players when they reach the end of their contracts. I have no doubt that the Yanks have every intention of making a play for Chavez. They’ll either do it after this season is over or, in the event that the A’s are in bad shape come the trading deadline in July, they’ll do it mid-season this year, putting A-Rod back where he belongs, at Short, and potentially living with Jeter’s poor defense at 2nd, or trading Jeter for pitching as well. 

This all just makes me think of that line from Mel Brooks’ “History of the World” film. While Mel Brooks, playing the French king, is ravishing the busty maiden on the lawn he looks up and says “it’s good to be the king.” It is good to be the king. Mr. Steinbrenner knows it. It’s also good to be a Yankees fan, if you happen to be one. I’ve been an A’s fan all my life, and except for the years that Walter Haas owned the team I’ve never slept soundly in the offseason. It must be great to get the sleep of angels every night knowing that no matter how grim things look, King George is always willing to pull out his checkbook when the time comes.

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