The baseball season I want to watch involves Miguel Cabrera, who is eyeing a double Triple Crown and forcing dialogue that he might be the greatest hitter ever. It involves the not-implausible chance that the $228-million Dodgers could play the $62-million Rays or $64-million A’s in a World Series. It features the Pirates, the team of my youth, and their first postseason foray since Sid Bream, Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla sabotaged baseball in Pittsburgh. It involves Yasiel Puig, Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw and requesting two forms of I.D. from the guy leading the National League in batting average.
Yet we’re not allowed to indulge in any of those joys at the moment, or maybe any moment soon. Rather, it’s WAR, and I don’t mean the Wins Above Replacement metric and how Mike Trout is blowing away Cabrera at 7.2.
Two of American sport’s biggest institutions, Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees, are at WAR with Alex Rodriguez, who may belong in some sort of institution after his lengthy progression of lies, denials, dirty pool and alleged coverups about performance-enhancing drugs. A third party — the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, representing major-league players sick of A-Rod and his drama — entered the fray Sunday night in the form of pitcher Ryan Dempster. In a scene that could repeat itself in the regular season’s final weeks, Dempster plunked Rodriguez with a 3-0 fastball after throwing behind him earlier and caused a near-brawl that prompted the ejection of an irate Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager, who seemed to almost smack home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora with one of his wildly waving hands.
Said Girardi: “He (Dempster) should have been thrown out of the game. Everyone knows it was intentional.”
Said A-Rod: “It’s obviously an odd situation there.”
Odd situation? You think all of this might be an odd situation, Alex Rodriguez?
Naturally, he responded with a home run in the sixth inning, silencing Fenway Park fans who’d been chanting,
“You’re a cheater!” After the ball sailed out, he shouted rounding first base, flashed a look toward Dempster on the way to second and pointed skyward at home plate. Some hero, that A-Rod.
Tell me: Is this really what America wants to see the next six weeks, a twisted drug theater in which a twice-dirty player won’t accept his 211-game punishment and incurs the wrath of everyone but family and friends? This just in: Family and friends aren’t sure about him, either.
I’ve never seen something so competitively bizarre and disjointed, a mess where A-Rod is the mortal enemy and daily waterboarding target of the very organization he’s trying to help win. By choosing not to accept his ban when all other players nailed in the Biogenesis scandal have swallowed their punishments, Camp A-Rod/A-Fraud/A-Rat has opted to engage in ugly crossfire with the Yankees and commissioner Bud Selig’s office. These daily shootouts are taking on the vicious overtones of rival gangs. And all they’ve done, as baseball heads toward its compelling final two months, is hijack what’s well and good about a sport that still can’t shake its 15-year stench of PEDs.
No one is sure which of the wild accusations are true and how much of this constitutes posturing and b.s. It would be nice if the independent arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz, ended his Bora Bora vacation — kidding, I think — and heard the appeals process. But he may not rule on the case until November or later, meaning A-Rod is allowed to continue playing for the Yankees for several weeks and prolong our national agony. His regular presence in pinstripes is an ongoing travesty. Not only does he remain in our consciousness, he also can have a direct impact on races for the American League East title and the two AL wild-card berths. What if he hits a late-September home run that knocks out a contender? What if he gets hot and helps the Yankees make a run for a playoff berth? He even can make $6 million from the Yankees if he ties Willie Mays, fourth on the all-time list, by reaching 660 home runs.
This is A-Rod’s poker game, his final hand, a strategy used by a few creepy people in world history (I won’t name names). He figures if he can’t beat baseball, he’ll just create havoc for those trying to destroy him while trying to rescue as much of the money — $86 million — owed him after this season, money the Yankees would rather toss in the Harlem River than give to him.
“I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself,” Rodriguez said of the flung mud. “If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.”
In his mind, he has yet to fail a drug test and has been bullied by all the commissioner’s men. But a rational mind will argue that A-Rod’s 2009 acknowledgment of earlier PED use gives him no credibility in any defense scenario. And a rational mind will point out that Rodriguez, when given a chance to deny that he has used PEDs while with the Yankees, has refused to do so. For all we know, he’s juicing as we speak. You’d like to shake Selig by the lobes and urge him to give it a rest and stop the public battle, that national sentiment is overwhelmingly against Rodriguez as the scummiest of sport’s lying dopers, edging out Lance Armstrong for top honors. At this point, why not forbid A-Rod from playing for the Yankees, using the commissioner’s “best interests” of the game clause, and declare war on the union? The answer, of course, is that Selig doesn’t want to jeopardize what have been unusually peaceful relations between MLB and the post-Donald Fehr union. Too, Selig knows the arbitration process isn’t always a slam-dunk and apparently is playing to Horowitz’s ears, as well, as he body-surfs in the Bahamas — kidding, I think.
“I spent many, many hours thinking about it,” Selig told reporters. “Trying to be fair, trying to be logical and rational. And the one thing you learn in this job after 20-something years, I wouldn’t second-guess it today at all. I know why I did it, and what I did. I thought it was eminently fair then and I think it’s eminently fair today.”
The latest damaging allegation against A-Rod, with more to come, was the leak to CBS’ “60 Minutes” news magazine that Rodriguez’s associates had snitched on Biogenesis mates Ryan Braun and Francisco Cervelli, who happens to be a Yankees teammate. Why? I assume A-Rod’s camp, knowing that the two names had been redacted from an original published report by a Miami alternative publication, wanted to put the media focus on Braun and Cervelli by leaking their names to Yahoo! Sports while Rodriguez tip-toed away unscathed. In MLB’s view, he and his people obstructed the investigation. The news spread quickly across the land, eliciting mostly disgust and a wish that A-Rod would go away. Just one problem: A-Rod popped up hours later, as he always does, with a denial and a smile.
“It’s not true,” Rodriguez told reporters. “We’re all going to have to get ready for a bumpy road. It’s going to get bigger every day. I would expect bigger and bigger stories to come out every day. It’s frustrating that it’s coming out one drip at a time. You wish all of this could be done in a confidentiality manner like the collective bargaining agreement says it should, but that’s not the case. We’re going to have to deal with it. When I have the right platform at the right time and the time is appropriate — which is not now — I will tell my full story.”
Don’t let him con you. That time is now, in the form of his own media blitz of MLB and the Yankees. A day after the Rodriguez-as-snitch stories, Camp A-Rod fired back in the New York Times and said the Yankees were so consumed with collecting insurance money on the remaining portion of his megadeal — the 10-year, $275 million deal he signed in 2007 — that they urged him to play while injured and misled him about his physical condition in hopes his health would deteriorate and force his premature retirement.
The A-Rod mouthpiece was the bombastic Joseph Tacopina, his latest lawyer in a growing stable of legal artillery. Known as an arrogant bulldog whose style plays well in New York and on TV, Tacopina told the Times that Yankees president Randy Levine had a message for their assigned physician, Dr. Bryan Kelly, when he was preparing to perform surgery on Rodriguez’s hip in January. “I don’t ever want to see him on the field again,” Levine allegedly told Kelly, according to Tacopina. This after the team, according to Tacopina, didn’t tell Rodriguez last October about a torn labrum that had been revealed by an MRI. From Tacopina’s viewpoint, his client continued to play with the injury, which contributed to his poor performance in the postseason.
Levine strongly denied the story and ordered Rodriguez to release medical reports. “Alex should put up or shut up,” Levine told ESPNNewYork.com.
To which Tacopina responded to ESPNNewYork.com: “”We will put up, mark my words, we will put up. (Levine) is always a very big talker, but he is going to be humbled eventually. He is acting in a way that if his bosses and superiors and the Steinbrenner family have any sense of decency, if they are true to what the Yankees’ heritage is, they would be appalled with how their president is acting. We will put up.”
Would it shock me if a team used engaged in chicanery with a doctor to recover tens of millions of dollars? Nope. Might A-Rod’s people be making up the story? Yep. But as we prepare for more charges and countercharges, these two conclusions shine through the muck:
1. It’s disgusting that Rodriguez ever would portray himself as a victim when he is the twice-caught villain.
2. It’s equally disgusting if the Yankees, the ones who foolishly agreed to the $275 million, would use medical fraud to deceive Rodriguez in attempts to reclaim the lost money.
Said Tacopina to the Times: “We have basically had enough. The process is being perverted when they act the way they do to make their case. They are pushing Alex to his limit … The legacy of George Steinbrenner would be horrified. This is the New York Yankees. This isn’t some thug-culture club.”
Said Levine to ESPNNewYork.com: “It’s quite surprising that now Alex needs a new layer to put out reckless, specious and false allegations that only distract from the only relevant question here, the one he refuses to answer: Did he or did he not use performance-enhancing drugs?”
Somehow, in what is unprecedented territory even in these tangled sporting times, the Yankees and Rodriguez have to co-exist each day. They could punish him by refusing to use him and letting him rot in the dugout, but, still hanging into to postseason hopes, they need his bat. He’s the worst kind of necessary evil for the Yankees, not that they have to talk to each other. General manager Bruan Cashman says he won’t talk to him at all, in fact.
“I’m not comfortable talking to Alex on this stuff because I feel we’re in a litigious environment,” Cashman told reporters, mentioning at one point that he felt “lied to” by A-Rod and his people. “Hello and goodbye, that’s about it. I am not comfortable anymore talking to him. I don’t want to be distorted.”
As all of this A-Rod-vs.-the-world rancor was spilling, Miguel Cabrera was belting a walk-off homer for the Tigers, despite leg, hip and abdomen injuries. A sellout crowd in bleak, broke Detroit roared for their slugger. A day later, Cabrera hit Homer No. 40. That’s the story we want to follow, and if any techies are reading, I’m wondering if we could just block all things Alex Rodriguez with a V-chip.