- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

Let me say right off that I’m glad A-Rod is a Yankee. I hate the thought of wasting spring, summer and early fall worrying who’s going to win the American League pennant and the World Series. That sort of aggravation can cause ulcers, y’know.

Yep, it’s better to have everything decided in advance, like they do with the political conventions. Who needs competition? It’s so unpleasant, this business of every team thinking it can win on any given day or night. Look at the NFL and its vaunted parity. All the teams and many of the games are so evenly contested even Pete Rose doesn’t know which way to bet.

Eighty-four years ago, the Red Sox sold George Herman Ruth to the Yankees because owner Harry Frazee was losing his, er, shirt producing lousy plays. After a shakedown year in which the Babe acclimated himself to chasing wine, women and song in Gotham rather than Beantown, the Yankees won seven of the next nine pennants before Ruth’s belly grew larger than his bat.

Now something similar could happen. With Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter looming very large on the left side of the same infield, the Democrats might win a presidential election before somebody dethrones the Yankees.

And, hey, why stop here? Surely George Steinbrenner, if he puts his brains and bankroll to it, can add Nomar Garciaparra to his collection of superstar shortstops. Think of it — Nomar could be the designated hitter while his blushing bride, Mia Hamm, gives soccer clinics between innings.

We’re going to read a lot of garbage in the next few days about how the acquisition of the game’s best player doesn’t assure the Yankees of winning their first World Series since 2000 — that they still need starting pitchers to replace Roger Clemens, David Wells and Andy Pettitte, a young center fielder to replace Bernie Williams, a second baseman to replace Alfonso Soriano, blah, blah and blah. We’re also going to read how the addition of Curt Schilling and the subtraction of manager Grady Little make the Red Sox better. That’s probably true, but better doesn’t mean good enough.

I love the fact that A-Rod had to “approve” a deal that sent him from the dogmeat Rangers — they did, after all, begin life 43 years ago as the expansion Washington Senators — to the lordly Yankees. How long do you think he agonized over that tough decision, maybe half a nanosecond? Heck, he was so anxious to put on pinstripes he gave up something like $28million of his old $250million contract and agreed to leave a fielding position where he soon might have ranked as the best ever. (See John Peter “Honus” Wagner, Louisville and Pittsburgh, 1899-1917.)

Do you suppose A-Rod realizes he won’t be able to wear No.3 with the Yankees? Or maybe they will let him be baseball’s equivalent of a numerical entry and sport No.3A?

At this point, nothing would surprise me.

When you look at the trade dispassionately — meaning as neither a Yankees nor Red Sox fan — you realize it’s merely the later example of baseball’s seeming death wish. Removing any semblance of competition (at least on paper) is the surest way to turn off a substantial percentage of whatever fans still retain affection and respect for what used to be called (without drawing snickers) our national pastime.

This is, remember, the sport that spent 100 years denying players the right of free movement, then began paying obscene salaries to free agents who bat .240 or drag around an ERA of 5.40. It’s the sport than barred blacks from crashing its sacrosanct gates for 63 years. It’s the sport that hopped up balls, corked bats, lowered the mound, moved in fences and looked the other way at steroid use in the misguided notion that more offense would mean more paying customers.

It’s the sport that allows teams to charge $50 for a ticket, $10 for a hot dog and $6 for a beer so players can be multimillionaires.

And from an admittedly partisan viewpoint, it’s the sport that has managed for 33 years to ignore the nation’s capital because, it thinks, honest, that the Baltimore Orioles are a “regional” franchise.

There used to be, in days of yore and lore, so much to love about the greatest game ever devised by human beings.

Now there is only so much to hate.

I don’t dislike Alex Rodriguez, who seems a decent fellow. (Remember how, during Cal Ripken’s last All-Star Game, A-Rod made the Orioles icon shift from third base to shortstop for the first batter as a sign of respect?) As far as we know, he is a clean-living, hard-working athlete — and one who doesn’t feel compelled to wrap, unwrap and rewrap his batting gloves between every pitch, as Garciaparra so aggravatingly does.

Besides, if you or I could earn gazillions of dollars and play for a chronic winner in ultra-cool Noo Yawk rather than a chronic loser in boiling-hot Texas, wouldn’t we do the same?

No, the problem, again, is the boneheaded bozos who are doing their best (worst) to turn baseball into a mere blip on the sporting scene. That’s why I’m glad A-Rod is a Yankee — it provides new, damning evidence of what fools these mortals be. And Willie Shakespeare probably would understand this: I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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