- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

Alex Rodriguez claims his comments to Esquire magazine were taken out of context.

He also claims the dog ate his homework.

He is reading from a well-worn page in the playbook of lame defenses. Next to comments taken out of context are the following: I had to work late. I overslept. I forgot.

With Rodriguez, it apparently depends on what the definition of is is.

Rodriguez is making a habit out of this with Derek Jeter.

Whenever someone mentions Jeter's name in his presence, Rodriguez suggests that Jeter is not the player everyone seems to think he is. Then he has to explain what he means after his stunning evaluation is aired in public.

Rodriguez's observations are hard to support. Jeter batted .339 last season and has four World Series rings and plays a pretty mean shortstop.

Maybe friends shouldn't let friends critique one another.

Rodriguez and Jeter are supposed to be good buddies. With a good buddy like Rodriguez, who needs a cynical New York press corps?

As Rodriguez figures it, Jeter is the No. 2 hitter in the Yankees' lineup, which is different from being the No. 3 or No. 4 hitter. You don't sweat the No. 2 hitter, even if he was once the MVP of the World Series.

The way Rodriguez sees it, Jeter is fortunate to have so many talented players around him. Jeter can go to the ballpark each day and not worry about every little thing that goes wrong.

If he strikes out, Bernie Williams will follow with a home run. If he muffs a grounder, Roger Clemens will dispatch the next batter with a wicked fast ball.

It is so easy to be Jeter, the prince of New York City.

Rodriguez sounds green with envy, and green is his adopted color after he signed a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers in December. It is the largest contract in sports history, and its reverberations are being felt throughout baseball.

Frank Thomas thought he had a pretty good deal until he tried to digest Rodriguez's contract numbers. So now Thomas is pleading poverty, acting as if his next meal is in jeopardy, which takes considerable acting on his part, considering his ample frame.

Gary Sheffield, meanwhile, is threatening to tell all the Dodgers' secrets if they don't move him to an employer who might extend his contract in a fashion befitting his stature.

Baseball's higher-ups fear where the game is going, and they don't place it all on Rodriguez's contract. But his contract is the game's new line in the sand. It underlines the differences between the haves and have-nots. It raises the sense of alienation between the fans and players.

Mark McGwire, who shows it is possible to do business without an agent, is as concerned about the welfare of the sport as the top brass. It can't be about the money all the time, he says. It can't be about wringing every last million out of teams. It can't be about a $252 million shortstop taking verbal shots at a $189 million shortstop.

Life as a ballplayer is too good, too easy. Try not to sweat the small stuff. Fair or not, you are going to be judged on the basis of your contract, and if you come across as a two-legged hemorrhoid, don't be surprised if your usually adoring public resents it.

"I never dreamed I'd be making this kind of money," Rodriguez says. "I'm embarrassed to talk about it."

But he is not too embarrassed to intimate that Jeter's reputation is inflated, aided in part by a big-market owner who can spend what it takes to be successful.

Rodriguez could have gone to the same market, to the Mets. He could have tried to wrest Gotham from Jeter. Instead, his contract negotiations with the Mets broke down because of the fine print, the perks. He followed the money, to Texas, and the rest is baseball history.

The fallout is just beginning.

Spring training is under way, and baseball is whining.

The least Rodriguez could do is maintain a happy face and leave Jeter out of it.


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