Circus of the stars

Big money, big egos and big expectations. Why should anyone expect a quiet summer with A-Rod in town.

Originally Published: February 18, 2004
By Bob Klapisch | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The overflow in the Yankee Stadium parking lot forced late-comers to leave their cars on the sidewalks. Some, even more desperate as Alex Rodriguez's arrival loomed, took their chances by parking on an embankment hugging the Major Deegan Expressway.

Torre, A-Rod, and Jeter
Welcome to New York: A-Rod surrounded by smiles and Yankee legends.

And that was just the media.

Lucky for everyone the cops were in a generous, non-ticketing-writing mood. They were distracted by Rodriguez, just like everyone else on Tuesday. Several hundred fans flocked to the ballpark, standing outside the entrance chanting "A-ROD, A-ROD" just as the newest Yankee pulled up in a Cadillac sports utility vehicle -- right on time for his noon press conference.

Rodriguez spent the next three hours promising to be as polite and team-oriented as he is talented. Over and over, A-Rod insisted his switch to third base was "a non-issue," repeating that he became a Yankee to help Derek Jeter, not eclipse him.

"He's got four (World Series) rings right now. I'd like him to get 10," Rodriguez said. No one doubted the sincerity of his words -- at least for now. After all, if A-Rod was willing to surrender almost $28 million to play at Fenway, why wouldn't he embrace third base to become a Yankee?

The question, though, has a different ramification for the front office and for Joe Torre, in particular.

After a frenzied winter turning over the roster -- not to mention fattening the payroll to $195 million -- George Steinbrenner created a team with two shortstops, two center fielders (Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton), two first basemen (Jason Giambi and the all-but-signed Travis Lee) and two closers (Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera).

It'll be Torre's job to sort out the spring training battles and how to deal with A-Rod's assimilation. However, Torre was out of the loop on the trade with the Rangers, and was told, not consulted, about Rodriguez's switch to third base.

But if the manager was angered by the snub, he wouldn't admit it publicly. Instead, Torre said, "If I felt the other way, maybe I would resent it. Because I agreed, maybe that's why I didn't think about it."

It was the smartest-possible reply in the midst of so many reporters. Even Reggie Jackson, who was in attendance Tuesday, admitted Rodriguez's coronation was "way bigger than when I got here" before the 1977 season.

A-Rod's presence might be too big for even Torre, considering he's entering the final year of his contract. It's possible Torre will leave the dirty work of flip-flopping Rodriguez and Jeter to his successor, either Willie Randolph or Don Mattingly.

If so, it'll represent a significant challenge for a rookie manager, since Jeter has no intention of surrendering his turf, even to a two-time Gold Glove winner. When asked who he considered the better shortstop, Jeter said, "I don't have to answer that question anymore. Alex is the third baseman."

I don't have to answer that question anymore. Alex is the third baseman.
Derek Jeter when asked who he considered the better shortstop

In an unguarded moment, Jeter was even cattier. According to Newsday, he told a friend he was fine with being Rodriguez' teammate, "as long as I'm the shortstop."

Still, no one, least of all Jeter, diminishes what Rodriguez means to the Yankees' offense: A-Rod has hit 40 or more home runs in six consecutive seasons, a feat matched only by Babe Ruth, who had seven. In most circumstances, Rodriguez would be the ideal cleanup hitter, but Torre suggested Rodriguez would hit third, with Jason Giambi fourth and Gary Sheffield fifth.

The potential for a 1,000-run offense is so tempting, Torre even opened the door to a possible return in 2005, saying, "I'm not ruling anything out."

The enthusiasm over A-Rod didn't extend much beyond the Yankees circle, though. The Red Sox were obviously bitter, as president Larry Lucchino told the Boston Globe. "Money talks. (the Yankees) reached into their treasury and made it happen."

And the crosstown Mets, who could have signed Rodriguez three years ago before deciding they couldn't afford him, are still stinging today.

"I find it curious that this was a deal that somehow only the Yankees could get done," Al Leiter told the Newark Star-Ledger. "I mean, any team, or any team with the financial ability -- and there are more than a few -- would gladly spend $16 million a year to get Alex Rodriguez, as great a player as he is."

One major league executive said the Mets could have afforded Rodriguez, and have only themselves to blame for the Yankees' coup.

"Why didn't they pick up the phone and try to trade (Jose) Reyes?" said the executive. "He's going to be a great player and costs a lot less than (Alfonso) Soriano. One guy is making $5.4 million, the other is making $300,000."

Do the math: With the $9 million (the Rangers are picking up) in deferred money, Soriano will cost $14 million. Next year he'll make $9 million in arbitration. Throw in the other $9 million and now Soriano will cost $18 million.

"I don't think that's such a great deal for Texas," the executive said. "Reyes might have made more sense if someone had been smart enough to think of it."

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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