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Thursday, December 18, 2003
Updated: December 22, 4:44 PM ET
 



WHO ARE THE GOOD GUYS AND WHO ARE THE VILLAINS IN THE A-ROD SAGA?


It's like some kind of bizarro soap opera, "As A-Rod's World Turns ... or Doesn't," with plot twists even Hollywood would squirm over:

Bud Selig, hero of the working class

The evil union that refused to say, "Yes"

Nomar the Beloved is cast out of Boston and must live forever in the chilly Midwest ... or not

Greed kills

"Yankees suck!"

The Writers' Bloc takes a close look at this twisted saga, assesses the damage, names the heroes and villains, and tries -- pretty much in vain -- to put a smiley face on the whole sordid mess.

Free A-Rod! Free A-Rod! | From Tim Keown
So now we find our leading man, A-Rod, imprisoned by his contract, walled in by his enormous talents and Tom Hicks' overwhelming largesse. Have we entered an alternate universe? A-Rod can't go where he apparently wants to go (Boston) because the Major League Baseball Players Association says he can't reduce his contract to the extent the Red Sox would like him to reduce it.

Meet the Bloc
Here's the full Writers' Bloc roster:

From Page 2: Jim Caple, Patrick Hruby, Eric Neel, David Schoenfield, Dan Shanoff, Ralph Wiley.

From ESPN The Magazine: Eric Adelson, Shaun Assael, Luke Cyphers, Alan Grant, Tom Friend, Peter Keating, Tim Keown, Steve Wulf.

Other hired guns: Gerri Hirshey, Chuck Hirshberg, Melanie Jackson, Robert Lipsyte.

Oh, yes, the poetry of the game. The accidental symmetry, the pastoral simplicity, the timeless beauty. Tell me again: How many days 'til pitchers and catchers?

Kafka's probably a bit too heavy of an invocation, but this is definitely some weird science. A-Rod won't buck the union, because bucking the union means bucking his boss (Scott Boras, not Buck the Showalter) and incurring the wrath and laser looks from his fellow unionists. Most of them, as we all know, are just a few 50-homer, 130-RBI seasons away from a $252 million deal of their own.

But now here comes the white knight, Bud Selig, back in his element. He's ready to ask everybody the class car salesman's question, the question that put him where he is: "What's it gonna take to get you in this baby today?"

It's a statement that can only make sense in the twisted world of baseball: A-Rod, prisoner.

Alex Rodriguez
Little did Alex Rodriguez know that signing a $252 million contract would be the worst thing to ever happen to him.
In a public sense, he always has been a prisoner of his contract. The number (252) has become affixed to him the way 714 attached itself to Ruth and 61 attached to Maris. But now, thanks to the folks who allegedly fight for his rights, the contract has become a professional albatross as well.

He's no longer a ballplayer, he's a symbol. To fans, he's a symbol of excess. And now, to the players and the union and the ghost of Joe Hill, he's a symbol of goofy solidarity. He'll stay in Texas to preserve the right of every wide-eyed, scrawny Double-A outfielder to dream the impossible dream.

But wait, what's that we hear, cresting the hill? It's a man on a horse, a white horse, and he's ... he's coming to the rescue.

It's Bud.

Good luck, A-Rod. Enjoy your stay at the intersection of Ridiculous and Asinine. And always look both ways before you cross.

All hail King Midas | From Chuck Hirshberg
Kafka, huh? Actually, the A-Rod kerfuffle reminds me of two far less lofty moralistic fables: The Midas Touch and The Same Old Story.

I just learned something remarkable about The Midas Touch: It's a curse. Did you know that? I didn't. I thought it stood for the snappy, reliable service I want, and deserve, even when I'm not gonna pay a lot for a muffler. But actually, the Midas Touch was invented by a King who lived in the olden days, sometime between the end of the dinosaurs and the dawn of cable television.

King Midas was a great businessman who achieved wealth and power using the same three simple principles most commonly used today: Hard work, ambition and dishonesty. So hardworking, ambitious and dishonest was he that everything he touched turned to pure gold. But like so many visionaries, King Midas discovered that achieving success was one thing, surviving it quite another. His food, his wives, and, I'm afraid, even his favorite male organ, turned to bling the second he laid hands on 'em. So he died the lonely death of a Texas Ranger superstar.

Here in America, the term "Midas Touch" is almost always used as a term of admiration, which pretty well sums up everything that's wrong with our culture. Example: "Wow, how about that Alex Rodriguez! Hits for power and average, great glove, rocket arm ... and now he's got the biggest contract in baseball. He's got the Midas Touch." Or: "Wow, how about Scott Boras? What an agent! He always gets his clients outrageously fat contracts! He's got the Midas Touch." Or: "Tom Hicks -- what a dealmaker! He signed the best player in baseball. Those Texas millionaires sure have the Midas Touch!"

Now, if the legend of King Midas has any bearing on the modern world, A-Rod, Boras and Hicks will have to live, and die, with the consequences of their lust for gold. But there's still that other moralistic fable to consider, The Same Old Story, which goes like this:

Bud Selig
Strangely enough, the biggest winner here has been Bud Selig.
From time immemorial, the rich and powerful have always done exactly what they want, regardless of their promises. The end.

So why should Messrs. A-Rod, Boras and Hicks be held to their signed contractual obligations? Better to just rip up baseball's basic agreement, regardless of how that might affect hundreds of other, less wealthy players.

I'm rooting for Midas, but I expect the Same Old Story to be told before the 6 p.m. deal deadline. As Kafka once said -- and this is a beautiful thought for the holidays, is it not? -- "The first tingle of understanding generally carries with it a longing to die."

Cue the conga line | From Patrick Hruby
Somewhere in all this, there's a MasterCard commercial just waiting to happen.

Sit down, Norma Rae | From Eric Neel
The union messed up Wednesday, forgetting two key factors:

1. No owner is ever going to do another A-Rodesque deal.

Hicks is the kid who got humiliated so all his classmates could learn a lesson. MLBPA, don't sweat it, you don't need to worry about closing the door on future deals like this because it slammed shut about 10 seconds after it was opened.

2. Everyone wants to see this new deal done.

Fans in Boston want a home-run swing that knocks the inferiority-complex ball over the Green Monster and deep into the night.

Fans in Texas know what they have isn't working -- too much money sunk into one great player, too many decisions about their team made by that player and his agent, not nearly enough pitching to stay afloat past May 1. They're eager for a do-over.

Fans in Chicago are worried that Nomar wouldn't stay, but they hope he will, and they'll put on a Southside lovefest reception to try to change his mind.

Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez appears set to join Derek Jeter in the Yanks' infield.
And fans everywhere else are sick of the A-Rod-in-Arlington show; it's so two years ago. They want to see the curtain rise on the Rodriguez-in-Beantown (War-with-the-Yanks) blockbuster.

All of which means the union could have been on the side of the people here. There were goodwill tokens and PR points free for the taking. But they passed. And now, crazy as this sounds, Bud gets to stroll up to the mike, easy as you please, and be the voice of reason, the voice of the folks.

Only one thing trumps his play: A-Rod restructuring the deal regardless of what the union says. Sure, he's ostracized by his fellow-players, but it ain't like he's all that popular now, anyway. And look at the upside: He goes from being a $252 million symbol of all that is absurd in professional sports to a still-very-handsomely-paid icon who stood up and said, "Enough is enough. This is the right thing to do." With his swing, his smile, his numbers, and with the chance to change history alongside Schilling and Mags, we're talking folk hero.

But A-Rod isn't actually allowed to restructure his deal without union approval. So, I guess he'd have to make an even bigger, more dramatic, play by renouncing his membership and then restructuring the deal. Of course, that could be a major blow to the union's viability and might undermine a generation's worth of the fair-labor advances they've negotiated since Flood.

Ah, screw it. Tim's right. The thing's an albatross. A-Rod's trapped.

We're all trapped.

Man, the union messed up Wednesday.

Everybody loses | From Jim Caple
Nomar Garciaparra
Jim Caple says there's not much difference between Nomar and A-Rod. David Schoenfield strongly disagrees.
Don't you admire the way A-Rod stuck it out for three tough years? That's almost a third of his contract.

And is anyone else bothered by the fact that he pretty much screwed over Garciaparra by actively campaigning for Nomar's job while he was trying to negotiate a contract? Why isn't the union complaining about THAT?

And I still DON'T understand this trade. A-Rod is a great player, but so is Nomar. A-Rod isn't going to be THAT much better than Nomar (and he isn't going to be as popular), he's just going to be more expensive. Can someone tell me how the Red Sox are going to be better off by trading for A-Rod instead of re-signing Nomar to an extension? Or how the Rangers are better off without A-Rod, a great shortstop, while receiving another expensive, unmotivated slugger who can't play defense?

Uh, no ... everybody wins! | From David Schoenfield
Jim, you've been hating on A-Rod ever since he signed his contract, yet you've never said one word about Kevin Garnett making $28 million a year and never winning a playoff series.

More to the point: Why would the Red Sox make this trade? Simple. Because Alex Rodriguez will win you more games than Nomar Garciaparra. He hits better (last year, in an off year, A-Rod's OPS was more than 100 points higher), he fields better and he's more durable. And did you see Nomar in the postseason? (No, you didn't, because he was invisible.)

And A-Rod's not screwing Nomar. Garciaparra did that to himself, when he reportedly turned down a long-term, $15 million per year deal from the Red Sox last spring. With Nomar, the Red Sox risk signing an expensive, potentially declining injury-prone player (who, from all accounts, didn't really want to re-sign with Boston anyway).

And why would Texas want Manny Ramirez? Besides saving tens of millions that can used to upgrade their pitching, that "unmotivated" player helps you win ballgames by simple little things like a .325 batting average and 37 home runs. Few players in baseball produce as many runs as Manny.

Unmotivated or not.