A one-time legend among New York columnists, Frank Graham, observed about a suddenly-accessible player at the end of his career, “He learned to say hello when it was time to say goodbye.” Paraphrasing, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News wrote Sunday that Alex Rodriguez learned to say hello while he was essentially saying goodbye over the past two years.
There comes speculation that some in the administration of the Yankees—struggling much of the season, but currently winners of seven out of their last eleven—are pondering whether to cut bait and release two aging and expensive veterans, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera. If so, the pondering should graduate to acting.
. . . and what would be a little spring training without a few little controversies, actual or alleged, here and there?
■ THE CHANGELING—That would be new commissioner Rob Manfred, for whom it seems everything short of shortening the basepaths (oops! don’t give him any ideas!) is on the table, whether it’s outlawing defensive shifting, coming up with new rule adjustments to (it is alleged) speed up the game, or even returning baseball to the 154-game season. (The American League went to 162 games after its first expansion, beginning in 1961; the National League did likewise starting with its first expansion in 1962.)
Accepting the inevitable comes hard enough for most mortals, never mind professional athletes. When the inevitable is retirement, it isn’t everyone who faces it with quiet grace and gratitude for having been there at all, and it often forces a player to buck up to it. When the inevitable is banishment for cause, it isn’t everyone who can resist facing it kicking and screaming, but few kicked and screamed as loudly or as wildly as Alex Rodriguez did until Friday.
Let’s have no more than absolutely necessary about the Alex Rodriguez contretemps. For now, say only that he’s managed to provoke comparisons to the end of the McCarthy era while suing his own union, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, in a filing that includes a rather nasty dig at the late executive director Michael Weiner (Weiner “falsely declar[ed] Mr. Rodriguez’s guilt and stat[ed] he should accept a suspension and resolve the Grievance at issue,” the filing charges) who urged A-Rod to make a deal rather than fight a war he couldn’t win.
We could see a 2014 baseball season and maybe more without Alex Rodriguez, after all. The original 211-game suspension didn’t hold up, but on Saturday independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz imposed a ban of 162 games plus any postseason competition into which the Yankees enter. As no few observers have noted already, that’ll be an easier jump to justify than a 211-game jump, the thinking being that losing a season is more defensible on appeal than losing an unprecedented season and a third.
In hindsight, it seems almost inevitable. Not just that Alex Rodriguez is going down; that’s been just about a given since he became the number one topic around actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances after Ryan Braun’s suspension.
Now, we’re talking about A-Rod himself pushing the plunger on himself. If you’ll pardon the expression. And the Yankees, who’ve been stretched to the absolute end of their proverbial rope, even by their standards, aren’t exactly ready pick up his funeral tab.
The Yankees have never been shy about giving second comings to former stars, useful spare parts, or even managers. Enos Slaughter, Bobby Murcer, Billy Martin, Goose Gossage, Yogi Berra, Tommy John, David Wells, Ruben Sierra, and Andy Pettitte could tell you that.
But I can’t recall any of those men, with the exception of Berra succeeding Martin in 1984, being brought back to the field in what might well be part of a plan to move a continuing pain in the ass to one side.
By now it’s a waste of space to suggest Bob Costas should be baseball’s next commissioner, simply because he doesn’t want the job, and never really has, no matter who’s thought how highly of his mind and love for the game. Unfortunately, the Man Who Wouldn’t Be Commissioner doesn’t help his own anti-cause by saying things that cause people to think he ought to be dragged into the job by any means necessary when Bud Selig decides at last that it’s time to retire.
As the latest contretemps involving Alex Rodriguez continues winding (or unwinding, as the case may well be) toward somewhere, Hal Steinbrenner, perhaps inadvertently, allowed to slip a hint that maybe, just maybe, the Yankees are learning in in-house cultural terms to deal with baseball’s, and any sport’s, least repealable law.
The Empire Emeritus and its managing general partner may pledge to cooperate with baseball government’s probe into Boschgate (“But other than that, there’s not much to say”), and they may be pondering ways to divest themselves of Rodriguez’s presence and its baggage, actual or alleged. But they may also be learning the hard way the lesson Steinbrenner’s larger-than-life father didn’t always seem have known.