Friday, November 16, 2007

What is it about A-Rod...

...that turns people into kindergarteners?

Mark Kriegel of, come on down! It's your turn to irrationally dogpile the best hitter in baseball!

Even as the news of Barry Bonds' indictment spread, the game was preparing for his eventual successor. ... But here's the question: Can you ever learn to love Alex Rodriguez?

This is either a really awkward segue, or he means “the next media-designated Public Enemy #1.” Somehow, I doubt he means “Earth’s Best Hitter of Pitched Baseballs,” which is more important. NOTE – you will almost certainly not see that fact in Kriegel’s essay.

It is difficult to imagine a worse public relations strategy than that employed by Rodriguez over the last month or so. It's as if he wanted people to hate him, which, unlike Bonds, he most certainly does not.

This just highlights Kriegel's lack of imagination. I can imagine far worse public relations, such as a wedding toast in which the best man waxes nostalgic about the bride's collegiate experiments with sapphic filmmaking. Or, if you lack imagination, you could simply follow the news for fifteen minutes and see far worse: Britney’s public year-long train wreck or OJ’s “If I Did It” nonsense, followed by his home-brewed raid on some poor shlub’s Vegas hotel room. On a scale of 1 to Mike Tyson, A-Rod’s opt-out timing rates a two at most.

Rodriguez followed yet another lackluster postseason by opting out of a record-breaking contract. It was his right, of course. But to have the opt-out all but announced on network television during the clinching game of the World Series is not a right but a blunder, and a monumentally cynical one at that.

OK, so whose blunder is it? His? Was he in the broadcast booth talking about it live? Or, was it more likely Scott Boras who mentioned it, and then Fox – YOUR EMPLOYER, MR. KRIEGEL – who chose to announce it to the baseball world when there was a good audience for it?

You may argue that this was the work of his agent, Scott Boras. And you may be partially correct. But as it pertains to contract negotiations, fans don't observe much of a distinction between agent and client, nor should they.

Boras had always been Rodriguez's guy. Boras got him the best contract in sports history. Boras was the one who invented preposterous new indices — Iconic, Performance and Network value — in an effort to inflate his client's worth. It's a little late in the game for them to be playing good cop/bad cop.

OK, so if you’re a great player, that’s Performance Value. If you’re a great draw at the park and on TV, that’s Network Value. If you’re a guy who also sells cars and fragrance and has huge billboards up and down broadway, like St. Yankee himself, Derek McSteely Eyed Calmnosity Jeter, then you have Iconic Value. These do not sound like absurd thoughts to me. The Yankees will probably never trade or buy out Derek Jeter, precisely because he is a commodity with value far in excess of his on-field performance. Suddenly Jeter and his agent shouldn’t negotiate with the Yankees with that in mind? Maybe Scott Boras should stop doing his job – which is maximizing Alex Rodriguez’ salary – because you think that reasonable things are preposterous?

Since you already have no imagination, I’m going to answer my own question: no, Scott Boras should not stop doing his job, even if we all think he’s a particularly evil breed of vampire snake or something.

A couple of weeks ago, the Yankees said — and there's little reason to doubt them — that Rodriguez and Boras wanted $350 million not to opt out.

See “Imagination: Kriegel, Lack of.” The Yankees have many millions of reasons to portray Boras and Rodriguez as malignant grubbers of money who would kick puppies and vote Satan himself into the White House. The less popular they are, the less money they have to shell out for Earth’s premier crusher of baseballs. They’re trying to reduce A-Rod’s Iconic Value without hurting his Network Value (and thus their own bottom line). See how this all starts to make sense when you think for five seconds?

But now, more than a month after striking out with two outs and Bobby Abreu on second in the ninth inning of Game 2 in the AL Division Series, Rodriguez has had a sudden change of heart. So much for his iconic value. Not only is he not clutch, it doesn't look like he has much spine, either.

Ho. Ly. CRAP.

You could also say, “more than a month after crushing a home run in Game Four of the ALDS,” or “more than a month after outhitting Derek Jeter .267 to .176 while hitting into three fewer double plays,” or even “in anticipation of overwhelmingly winning his third American League MVP Award.” All those statements are also correct. The last of the three is a better measure of his overall value than a four-game stretch in October.

I mean, why opt out if you weren't going to go through with it? … The answer, of course, is that the money he and Boras figured to be out there was not. There was no $350 million. Nor was there a team offering $30 million a year. Only after coming to this realization did Rodriguez profess his love for all things Yankee.

See “Imagination: Kriegel, Lack of.” Again. He’s going to be under contract for longer than previously, making more money per year than previously. That is a good reason to opt out of the deal he already had. Other good reasons – the possibility that he wouldn’t have to put up with the spitefully ungrateful media and fan base of New York City, or the possibility that another contender would sign him and let him play shortstop again, since he happens to be very good at that. He came down from the number Boras originally floated, in a mysterious process known as “contract negotiation.” I think it involves voodoo, alchemy, and the Electric Slide, but certainly not logic.

As is usually the case, A-Rod's Yankee pride is really a code for Yankee dollars. If this was really about Rodriguez's burning desire to be a Yankee, he should have picked up the phone himself. Instead, he went around his agent and had a couple of guys from that well known non-profit Goldman Sachs make the call for him. Fact: It's as much about money now as it was a month ago. Even after opting out, the Yankees will pay him substantially more than any other team.

As long as Kriegel’s going to destroy his own position in this article, I’m going to chill. Popcorn?

And that bring us back to Bonds, who at 43 and under indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice has almost certainly played his last game. Bonds has 762 home runs. Rodriguez, at only 32, has 518. That puts him 245 homers from the most famous record in all of sports. He could get that number in six seasons. And that's worth a lot to the Yankees, whose fans grew up thinking of the most long-standing home run records (Babe Ruth's and Roger Maris') as a kind of birthright.

At this point, Kriegel starts an entirely new essay. How does he expect us to follow his train of thought if he can’t? “This is a story about a whale – NO!”

As of Thursday night, the deal in place for Rodriguez calls for a base of $275 million for 10 years. But the sides were still negotiating a way for him to share in the revenue created by his pursuit of Bonds' tainted record.

"It's a historical achievement bonus," said Hank Steinbrenner, the team's senior vice president.

Everything broke right for Major League Baseball on Thursday. Bonds' indictment was not for tax evasion, as baseball officials had feared, but for lying under oath about his alleged steroid use. At long last, the indictment offers resolution to a very sad story.

Relation of the last paragraph to the three previous? Zip. Nil. Bubkes. “The little critters of nature… they don’t know that they’re ugly.”

Unlike the players who juiced themselves into a state of apparent greatness, Bonds was great — one of the greatest, in fact — before steroids and human growth hormone (HGH). Now he'll be remembered for the drugs. His is a legacy undone by his hubris.

Next, consider Greg Anderson, Bonds' friend and former trainer. He's been in jail for more than a year. The government said it needed his testimony to make its case. Only now, it turns out that his testimony was not needed. What does that say of a prosecution, when the musclehead is more of a stand-up guy than the prosecutors?

“That’s very funny – a fly marrying a bumblebee!”

Finally, there are the enablers in both the MLB and the union. For years they pretended nothing was wrong. Now they have to find a way to make it right. The only problem is, they can't. Bonds' likely defense is that he didn't know he was taking banned substances. In that case, even a verdict of innocent wouldn't remove the taint from the record.

But then, what is Bud Selig — who cheered so loudly for Mark McGwire — to do? I don't see how he can expunge Bonds' statistics unless he's going to expunge the career stats of every one else who benefited from performance-enhancing drugs. You can't hammer Bonds because he's not a nice guy and issue a pass to, say, Paul Byrd, who got a shipment of HGH from a dentist.

Then there's the asterisk. If you give Bonds an asterisk, do you put a similar asterisk, for example, on Jason Giambi's MVP award? Or does Giambi get special consideration because he cooperated with Sen. Mitchell's investigation? Where does it end?

The damage can't be undone. The records of the last 10-12 years are suspect. Anyway you cut it, it's a mess.

If Mark Kriegel had started this article with the "Barry Bonds is now 43, under indictment for…” paragraph and kept going, we’d actually have a good piece. He’s dead on target with all of this – especially the collusion of the Giants and the union, who used Bonds until he broke the single-season and career home run records, and then tossed him aside. Bonds submitted readily enough. (That’s why the whole “The indictment ended Barry’s career” stuff is kind of dumb. If he’d gotten the record a season earlier it would have been over for him just as well. The Giants overlooked his age, and the taint of the cream & the clear, for that reason only. The Chase sold tickets. The indictment is pretty much just an afterthought from their perspective, a handy excuse to act shocked – shocked! – that their glittering knight wasn’t perfectly above-board.)

Still, there are fans out there who desperately want to regard the home run record as sacrosanct and the home run king as a worthy, if not mythical athlete. For them, there's only one hope: Alex Rodriguez.

He may not be the guy you want. ... But he's all you got.

Why couldn’t he have cut the first half of this and kept the second? Was bashing A-Rod such a novel idea that he decided he couldn’t resist? I can kinda sorta see the parallel between Barry and A-Rod as excellent players who aren't well-liked by their teammates, but part of that parallel has been crafted by the media as a quickie template for stories about A-Rod - and especially when writing the millionth variation on "he's not clutch so he's worse than Scott Brosius or Charlie Hayes." What it is, is frickin' lazy writing.

When it comes down to it, there are very few reasons not to want A-Rod on your team:

1. You buy into the whole "he'll kill you in October" thing. But A-Rod has had plenty of fine performances in playoff series, most recently in 2004, when he went 16-50 in eleven games, with five doubles, thre homers, eight RBI, and eleven runs scored. His line was .320/.414/.600. Besides, you're much likelier to actually reach October with him than without him, especially if you just sign him and not lose any other players.
2. You have better already. Sorry, you're lying. Alex Rodriguez once hit a home run before the pitcher even threw the ball - by the time he wound up A-Rod was already high-fiving the bat-boy. The only team that can MAYBE say this is the New York Mets, who are set at third with David Wright and short with Jose Reyes, both way younger and cheaper than A-Rod, and therefore more cost-effective. Even then, A-Rod is better defensively than Wright, and a better hitter for at least the next five years - and the Mets have a gaping hole at first base, currently haunted by the ghost of Carlos Delgado. Omar Minaya could have signed Rodriguez and played either him or Wright at first, and been the envy of the National League. Easy.
3. You can't afford him. Legit concern for at least three-quarters of baseball.
4. You hate him. Well, OK, I guess... but seriously, he just smacks the snot out of baseballs. He once accidentally hit Mr. Met into left-center for a two-run double. (A similar incident sent the Cincinnati Reds logo into the Witness Protection Program.) He once ordered a curveball to hang so he could sneeze before hitting it into the parking lot. He personally doesn't count home runs if he doesn't hit the ball directly on Bud Selig's signature. He hit a homerun that cleared the fence at Comiskey Park - on a day the Yankees played in Cleveland. He's just freakishly good. If the Giants could tolerate criminal behavior that monkeyed with the validity of the statistical record just to sell tickets and win games, then the Yankees (or whomever) could overlook some aloofness and a bunch of media crap to do the same thing. 'Cause make no mistake - a good 90+% of the ballyhoo about A-Rod is media crap.

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