Column: Stuck with each other in The Bronx
If you want intrigue, drama and dueling press conferences, forget the latest "trial of the century." All you have to do is tune in to the latest episode of the soap opera, "As the Yankees-Alex Rodriguez Relationship Turns."
A-Rod is one of the most polarizing athletes on the planet. He was the number one draft pick of the Seattle Mariners out of high school and after a brief sojourn in the minors, became the consensus best player in the American League, if not all of baseball. As soon as free agency rolled around, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks bestowed the richest contract in baseball history on A-Rod, 10-years and $252 million. After Hicks realized it took more than one player to win in a team sport, he shipped Rodriguez off to the Yankees with seven years remaining on his outlandish contract.
In New York, A-Rod continued to put up impressive numbers, although he never endeared himself to his teammates, especially captain Derek Jeter. Rodriguez exercised an opt-out clause in his contract and famously announced the move during the 2007 World Series, confirming what the baseball world already knew: It's all about A-Rod, all the time. Yankees' ownership, craving star power that befits their market, thought they needed the mercurial third baseman to put fannies in seats and maintain television ratings so they one-upped Hicks, signing Rodriguez to another "richest contract in baseball history." This time, the price tag was 10 years and $300 million. The Yankees have rued that deal virtually since the ink dried on the signature page of the contract.
Oh, the team won its 27th World Series title in 2009 with A-Rod in pinstripes, but Rodriguez has also spent an inordinate amount of time on the disabled list with a myriad of injuries that have necessitated multiple surgeries to his hips and right knee. He has also been accused of using PEDs on three different occasions, one of which he sort of admitted, the others he has steadfastly denied. However, in the court of public opinion A-Rod is viewed as a cheater and is derisively referred to as A-Fraud.
Rodriguez has spent this year on the DL recovering from another hip surgery and the question most frequently asked is whether he will appear in a Yankees uniform in 2013. Perhaps the bigger question is whether he will ever wear pinstripes again. In the past week, A-Rod and the Yankees have taken to the airwaves to comment on his medical progress, and anyone who pines for the cancelled soap "All My Children" need not despair. First, the Yankees said A-Rod was making progress but had not yet been cleared to play. Then A-Rod took to Twitter to excitedly announce that the doctors had cleared him to resume playing in games. When advised of the tweet, the normally restrained Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, never a Rodriguez fan, retorted: "Alex should just shut the f--- up."
The exchange was merely the latest - and most public - development in an ongoing saga. Only Rodriguez and the Yankees know for sure what's going on but speculation is the Yankees don't want A-Rod back under any circumstances, despite being desperate for production from the third base position. A-Rod has become a liability, an albatross that the Yankees would be thrilled to jettison. It is doubtful the narcissistic A-Rod will ever be more than a shell of the player he once was and his price tag, in addition to the soap opera the relationship has become, outweighs any benefit the Yankees could hope to receive from his performance.
For his part, Rodriguez may not want to come back. He is among a group of 20 MLB players under investigation for acquiring PEDs from a defunct Miami anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis. If A-Rod is deemed physically unable to play before Commissioner Bud Selig can discipline him, he may be able to retire and collect the $114 million remaining on his contract. The Yankees, who are collecting insurance on A-Rod's salary this year, could then be reimbursed the entire amount remaining on the contract.
What the parties envisioned when the latest contract was signed - A-Rod becoming the all-time home run leader in MLB - is now a mirage. All that's left is disappointment, bitterness, animosity and dueling press conferences.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.