Commentary

Decision, derision: A-Rod understands

Having been there, done that, Yankees slugger knows path LeBron is traveling

Updated: July 9, 2010, 9:30 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

SEATTLE -- Alex Rodriguez, the all-time drama king, wanted no part of LeBron James' night.

The two are friends, connected through Jay-Z, but A-Rod didn't want to talk too much about James' uproar. For A-Rod, it's been there, done that.

"Better him than me," a smiling A-Rod said. "Next question."

Rodriguez made his comments here, in the city he spurned as a free agent a decade earlier, as James fled his Cleveland home for A-Rod's Miami.

For A-Rod, it is "better him than me," because he was the original LeBron.

You can feel that here -- where the fans still throw their annual fake bills from the stands -- more than anywhere.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAlex Rodriguez's two RBIs in the ninth inning sealed Seattle's fate.

The fake money looks like parade confetti, except it is a decade-old mock. They have not forgotten and probably never will forget the betrayal that Cleveland received tenfold Thursday.

LeBron has made "The Decision" and he has decided to follow A-Rod's path. It will always be about him, even if he says it is not. For Rodriguez, that is always the case, even on LeBron's night.

As A-Rod failed with runners in scoring position in each of his first three at-bats, the 37,342 at Safeco Field loved it, hooting and hollering at him, bringing up steroids and '80s pop stars. A-Rod has a way of answering these days.

In the eighth, he walked and came around to tie the game at one. With the score still knotted in the ninth, there were two outs and two men on when it came to down to Rodriguez.

A-Rod found a hole in the right side, providing the game-winning runs as the New York Yankees matched their season-high with their sixth straight win, a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners. All-Star Andy Pettitte pitched brilliantly and Mariano Rivera's knee and oblique looked fine, despite the fact he is skipping the All-Star Game.

The Yankees, just like the rest of the sports world, were glued to the LeBron show and, at the same time, sick of hearing about it. Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Javy Vazquez sat on a black, leather couch before batting practice, watching SportsCenter for the latest details. The whole team gathered to watch the event before first pitch, with manager Joe Girardi pleased that James finally said where he was going so his team could prepare for the game.

Derek Jeter said he knew James' choice, but he wouldn't reveal it. CC Sabathia, LeBron's buddy, said afterward James made his decision based on championships.

"I feel for [Cleveland,]" said Sabathia, who met LeBron when they both played in that city. "They want a winner bad."

Rodriguez, though, could relate to James most of all. What LeBron is experiencing now is what A-Rod morphed after 2000.

Like LeBron, Rodriguez's public relations hit included New York, but it was the Mets' ownership that said no before A-Rod could ever say yes. The organization, not wanting to spend $200 million-plus on one player, sent then-general manager Steve Phillips out and placed the "24-plus-one" sign on A-Rod's back.

None of us really knew it at the time, but it might as well had said, "Kick Me," too.

The Wilpons, in their passive-aggressive way, did what Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert did with his forceful evisceration Thursday night. Like the Mets with A-Rod, Gilbert is prodding the public, exposing what might be a previously unknown side of his persona.

Just like LeBron before free agency, narcissism wasn't the first big word you thought of when A-Rod's name came up. After he landed in Texas, it was.

Like LeBron, Rodriguez was probably never coming to New York, but the city dreamed about Jeter on one side of town and A-Rod on the other. Just like LeBron, A-Rod was 25 with a free-agent plan. He didn't have a TV show announcement, but he did have a leather-bound book from Boras Publications to show how he was a player for all-time.

Like LeBron, A-Rod had an NBA bounty in mind. While James has talked of championships and will take less money, Rodriguez was after Kevin Garnett's $126 million contract, then the best in American sports. Rodriguez snared his prize and doubled it to $252 million.

A-Rod, nor his agent Scott Boras, noticed it came with a side of hate. A big side of it. That is what James just bought himself by humiliating his underdog hometown on national TV.

It is hard to remember all these steroid, World Series opt-out, Madonna years later, but Rodriguez's image was clean before the winter of 2000. He was championship-less, but was considered arguably the best player in baseball and an endorsement king. It all began to vanish in one offseason.

A-Rod didn't leave his hometown, but he did reportedly ask Boeing to flee his former city for Texas. Ten years later, people in Seattle haven't forgotten.

A-Rod has moved on, though. He finally made it to New York, though with the Yankees, starred in a championship and seems to have his athletic priorities in order. Rodriguez knows of what he speaks when he projects what James might be in for.

"Better him than me," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez has been there, done that. Now, he just focuses on big hits. He had another one on Thursday night.

GAME NOTES: Newly minted All-Star Nick Swisher went 4-for-4. He is hitting .563 (9-for-15) on the road trip and said he is "walking on clouds." ... Friday night, it is Cliff Lee (8-3, 2.34 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (10-2, 3.83 ERA).

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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