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Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Updated: May 31, 2:21 PM ET
Don't hand out the rings just yet

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Ever see a dog getting trained on an electric fence?

It scampers around the backyard, wearing one of those stupid collars, chasing rabbits and birds, knowing it isn't supposed to pass a certain point in the yard. Only it gets a little carried away, and it can't help itself, and it's running, and it's running, and then ... ZAP!!!!!!!! Suddenly, it's high-tailing it back to the house, its tail tucked firmly between its legs.

Alex Rodriguez
Now starting at third base for the Yankees ... Alex Rodriguez.
For many Red Sox fans, the Yankees are the electric fence. This is how we were raised. And that's just the way it is.

So when the Evil Empire plucked A-Rod on Valentine's Day, you can imagine what happened. New Englanders simply freaked out. Utter chaos. WEEI moved into full-crisis mode. Posters on Sox message boards were urging everyone else to remain calm, like we were trapped in a well or something. My phone was ringing off the hook. Even my father -- a reasonable man, by all accounts -- turned into Nancy Kerrigan and did everything but scream "Why????? Why me?????"

My favorite phone call came from my buddy Hench, who was attending a wedding back East. When someone casually told him the news, poor Hench was done for the rest of the reception. His legs buckling under him, he stepped outside for fresh air, pacing in 30-degree weather like a maniac, finally leaving a 90-second message on my machine that featured 20 swears, three tirades and a climactic 10-letter expletive about Gene Orza. Happy Valentine's Day.

For whatever reason, I didn't flip out. Upon hearing the news that A-Rod had sold his soul, I made the same face that Brett Favre made after Donovan McNabb converted fourth-and-26, crossed with Dr. Loomis's goofy smirk after Michael Myers disappeared at the end of "Halloween." Remember that face? It's the "All right, I should be reeling from this, but I have to admit, that was pretty f*****g impressive" Face.

Anyway, that was me. I'm not standing on the ledge. Not even close. I like this stuff. This escalating Red Sox-Yankees feud was already the most compelling storyline in sports. Now it's even better. This baby is ON.

In fact, just to make Sox fans feel better, I came up with 33 random thoughts about the A-Rod trade, the Yanks and the upcoming season:

1. Last time I checked, pitchers and catchers haven't even reported yet. We have a full spring training and 162 games to go. Take a breath. Then take a deep breath. Maybe even go for a walk.

2. All right, how can this POSSIBLY turn out well with Jeter playing shortstop and A-Rod playing third? Defensively, Jeter has been a below-average shortstop for years -- every possible defensive statistic says so. A-Rod is significantly better. Maybe he isn't Ozzie in his prime, but his defense at a premium position was one of the things that made him special.

Grady Little
Grady tunes in the Mother Ship to get his orders.
You're telling me that this isn't a little weird? You're telling me that the New York press won't be making a big deal of this? What happens when Jeter misses a few games -- he missed 43 last season -- and A-Rod takes over and shines at shortstop? A-Rod idolized Ripken, even insisting on calling pitches in Texas like Ripken did ... suddenly he's happy playing out of position next to a guy who can't carry his jock? This won't be a big deal? Really?

3. Consider this: No more Grady Little.

4. It's official: America has its greatest sports villains since either the Soviet hockey team in 1980 or the Iron Sheik in the mid-'80's, depending on your perspective. They're like a cross between Cobra Kai and the Nazis in Victory -- everyone hates them now, no matter where you live. How is this a bad thing? Isn't it better that we all have something in common now?

5. Nineteen games against the Yanks. Nineteen. With another seven looming in October. Every one of them will feel like a football game now, not just the playoff games. And just wait until A-Rod steps out of the dugout at Fenway for the first time -- with 35,000 people booing lustily, with Murph and Sully showering him with swear words by the on-deck circle. Oh, it's on, baby.

6. For the first time in 16 years, the Red Sox have three prime starters, thanks to the addition of Schilling. Isn't this a stronger version of the team that came within one managerial boner of the World Series? Suddenly we're writing them off because a guy who's never even played in a World Series landed on the Yanks?

7. Have I mentioned that Pedro is in a contract year? Same with Lowe and Nomar? Except for the occasional Mike Cameron, does anyone ever have a lousy contract year? It's human nature, isn't it? Just wait until I enter my contract year this spring -- I'll be putting up mailbags three at a time.

8. During A-Rod's final season in Seattle, the Mariners won 91 games. The following season, they won 116. Look it up.

9. This will make you feel better: When I'm running ESPN6 some day, I'm going to have a show where Susie Essman shows up at Tom Hicks's front door and screams obscenities at him. When he goes to work, we're going to follow him, then she'll scream more obscenities at him. When the courts eventually become involved, she will stand 100 feet away from him with a bullhorn, and continue screaming obscenities at him. This will go on for as long as I'm running ESPN6. I promise you that.

10. Wasn't Alfonso Soriano being called "The Next Hank Aaron" as recently as nine months ago? Wasn't he their only potential franchise player under the age of 26? Was the offensive upgrade from Soriano to A-Rod THAT significant? According to ESPN.com's Jim Baker, A-Rod had 67 win shares over the past two seasons ... 10 more than Soriano. I don't know what this means, but it makes me feel better. And Soriano hasn't even come close to hitting his ceiling yet -- his second and third seasons compare favorably to A-Rod at the same point of his career.

Alfonso Soriano
At about $5 million per year, the Rangers are more than happy with their new "bargain."
11. You know how we have K-Rod, T-Mac, J-Will, J-Rich, J-Lo and all these other annoying celebrity acronyms? Well, "A-Rod" started the whole thing. Did we really want a guy on our team who once caused Linda Cohn to say the words "I-Rod" instead of "Pudge"?

12. Once again: No more Grady Little.

13. Even if the Yankees win the Series, they had to break the $200 million salary mark and destroy the spirit of baseball in order to do it. Warrants mentioning.

On the flip side, if the Sox had landed A-Rod -- with the assist from Bud Selig allowing them a bargaining window that flagrantly violated the collective bargaining agreement -- any championship would have carried a small asterisk with it. Everyone would have said, "You could only end the curse because the Commish bent the rules for you." Who wants that? I would rather win without help. Maybe I'm crazy.

14. Now Dan Shaughnessy can update his "Curse of the Bambino" book for its 162nd printing ... clearly, he needs to make more money off this. God bless him. Do you think he patented the "Valentine's Day Massacre" phrase on Saturday at 2 p.m.?

15. That reminds me, don't let the national media fool you. This is not the second coming of the Ruth sale. For one thing, the Sox didn't screw up by passing on that trade. Nomar and Mags were a wash, offensively. A-Rod was obviously an upgrade from Manny -- in terms of defense, reliability and intangibles, with an advantage in homers but a lower OPS -- but the Sox were shelling out significant cash AND giving up Williamson and blue-chip prospects in the process. From a baseball standpoint, it wasn't a slam-dunk like last week's Yankees trade. I don't care what anyone else says. I wouldn't have made the deal, either.

And then there's this: A-Rod isn't Babe Ruth. He was considered the best player in baseball partly because he played shortstop ... and he's not playing there anymore. So calm down. The guy hasn't even been in a World Series. And as we witnessed with the careers of Griffey, Thomas, Belle and others, just because you look like a first-ballot Hall of Famer in your late 20's doesn't mean you're a first-ballot Hall of Famer in your late 30's. Just look at what happened to Kathleen Turner after "Romancing the Stone."

16. Not only did A-Rod make People's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue, he appeared in one of those "Hot Couples" photos in S.I.'s Swimsuit Issue last week -- just him leaning over his wife in a waterfall. Really, we were throwing Nomar under the bus for that?

(And speaking of Nomar . . . )

17. No-mahhhhhhhhhhh! For everyone who doubted him and didn't mind the thought of him playing somewhere else -- like me, for instance -- isn't there at least a decent chance that he shoves it in everyone's face? Nothing would make me happier, with the possible exception of Julie from the "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" getting arrested for trying to unlock Veronica's safety harness two weeks ago (don't ask).

18. When you think about it, A-Rod selfishly took $252 million from the Rangers, knowing full well that they wouldn't have enough money to surround him with comparable talent. After three seasons, he bailed on them and left them for dead. Now he's a good guy because he agreed to play third so he can win a ring? I don't get it.

Ben Affleck
Ben can barely speak for himself, let alone Red Sox Nation.
19. At least one more year of Manny. What can I say? I like watching the guy hit.

20. Another silver lining: This A-Rod fiasco made us realize that Ben Affleck needs to be stopped. I loved "Good Will Hunting" as much as anyone, but did you see him ranting and raving at the Daytona 500? Since when did Ben Affleck become The Voice of Red Sox Fans? Who nominated him? Would a true Sox fan ever propose to a chick with a big ass from the Bronx? In a million years? I really think we should vote on this -- let's have an election and everything. Ben Affleck needs to be stopped. I'm not kidding.

(And really, who is Affleck to lecture us about someone ruining the sport of baseball? Isn't this the same guy who sold out with "Reindeer Games," "Paycheck," "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon," "Gigli" and everything else? Has any actor cashed in as gleefully and gratuitously as Ben Affleck? How is this different than A-Rod weaseling his way to New York? And when you think about it, isn't working for the Weinsteins basically the Hollywood equivalent of playing for the Yankees? I thought so.)

21. Seriously ... no more Grady Little.

22. There isn't any athlete in recent memory -- maybe even in the history of team sports -- who will have more pressure on him than Alex Rodriguez this season. Everyone will be watching his every move. Every Yankee fan will blame him if things get screwed up. And he just spent the past three years playing in the middle of nowhere, under absolutely no pressure whatsoever. Hmmmmmm.

23. This could be the year that Mariano Rivera's arm comes flying off in a game. Let's face it: He's been on borrowed time for three years. Remember when the Bluesmobile fell apart at the end of "The Blues Brothers"? Exactly.

24. Speaking of breakdowns, when Kevin Brown's body breaks down this season -- and he WILL break down -- the Yanks won't have enough in their farm system to trade for another frontline starter. Does a playoff rotation of Vasquez, Contreras, Mussina and Lieber scare you in October? Me neither. I'll take Pedro, Schilling, Lowe and Wakefield, thanks.

25. Keith Foulke. First reliable Sox closer in five years. 'Nuff said.

26. Curt Schilling. Potential Hall of Famer. World Series Champion. Leader in the clubhouse. Could give a crap about curses and panicking fans. I'll go into battle with him any day.

27. The Yanks have the weirdest clubhouse of all-time -- they're like a roto team sprung to life, aren't they? Sheffield, Brown, Giambi, Contreras, Matsui, A-Rod ... it's like one of those "Saturday Night Live" seasons where Lorne Michaels brought in too many cast members and all hell broke loose. Doesn't clubhouse chemistry count for anything? And will A-Rod's reputation as a prima donna precede him?

28. Along those same lines, you can't buy your way to a championship. Many have tried. Few have succeeded. Last time I checked, you still have to play the whole season. In the words of Adam Carolla, "You can't just go out and buy a championship ring ... well, unless Dwight Gooden runs out of coke."

29. Playing second base this season ... Enrique Wilson. I don't even have a joke here.

George Steinbrenner
Coming soon to an annoying pop-up ad near you.
30. At some point during the season, someone will be bright enough to make a "Yankees Most Wanted" deck of playing cards, along the lines of those Iraqi cards last spring. And we can play poker with them and bash the Yankees and stuff. I look forward to it.

31. Just in case you forgot ... no more Grady Little.

32. If you're upset because the Yankees ruined the spirit of baseball as we know it, just remember: EVERY business works this way. Monopolies come in and swallow up rivals that can't compete, whether we're talking about the Yankees, Microsoft or Oprah. It's a part of life. Maybe this mess will even inspire things to change some day.

(Nahhhhhhhh . . . )

33. And finally ...

I didn't want to head into spring training as the favorite. It's much more enjoyable playing the role of the underdog, hoping to make history, hoping to topple the Evil Empire, hoping this is the year we finally bust through that electric fence. And if it happens -- after everything that happened this winter, after Game Seven last October, after nearly nine decades of falling short -- I can't imagine anything better as a sports fan.

This is fun. This is going to be fun.

I keep telling myself this.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC