"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

A Robbed

When my grandfather died in the spring of 1994, my mother flew my brother, sister and me to Belgium for the funeral. We arrived on Good Friday and returned on Easter Sunday. The entire time we were there I was hyper-aware that I would remember much of what would happen during those couple of days, right down to the small, seemingly innocuous details. It was an emotionally-heightened experience, and my sense memory picked up and retained almost everything.

I had a similar, though far less upsetting, experience this past weekend. On Friday, Emily had an examination under anesthesia, and for the first time in our relationship, I was the only one at the hospital with her. Em’s mother now lives in Vermont, but has always been Emily’s primary advocate and caretaker; she has been there for all of her daughter’s medical experiences. Without discounting the comfort and support that Emily’s mom brings to the table, we thought it would be a good step for our relationship to go at this procedure by ourselves. Not just at the hospital but at home, as Em recovered. (I’m happy to say that things went as well as could be expected, Emily was great, and we both appreciate all of the notes of support that were sent our way.)

Yeah, I was a little spooked by the fact that Emily was going to be in the hospital on Friday the 13th, but to be honest, I’m far more superstitious when it comes to sports than I am in real life. (How about the fact that A Rod may wear the number 13 as a Yankee?)

Anyhow, the point is, this weekend was meaningful for Emily and me in a deeply personal way. But throw in what will soon be known in Boston as “The Valentine’s Day Massacre,” and by yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t shut up to Emily about how we’ll remember this weekend for the rest of our lives. We certainly won’t be alone.

(Sadly, yesterday was also memorable because Lawrence Ritter, author of one of the most important baseball books of all, “The Glory of Their Times,” passed away at his home in New York.)

Bud Selig is expected to approve the trade later today, and the Yankees are set to land the best player in the game not named Barry Bonds. This is what those in the business call Bofo, babe. It is as glamorous a trade as you’ll ever see. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s utterly one-sided. The Yankees didn’t trade Erick Almonte and a bag of balls for Rodriguez, they traded a 25-year old All-Star in Alfonso Soriano. The deal makes sense for both teams, but it’s not as if the Red Sox don’t stand a chance now. Yes, the story fits all nice and snug in the continuing saga of the rivalry, but just how many wins did the Yankees gain here? According to Bill James’ Win Shares system, a scant few. Maybe three. And hey, as Tony Massarotti correctly points out in The Boston Herald, the Yankees still need to go out and win on the field. Think there will be any pressure on them?

But as far as pure theater goes, this is a classic. (Just think how much sweeter it will be for Boston should they beat the Yankees now. At least they can remain comfortable with their “underdog” status a little while longer.) I think it’s safe to say that Aaron Boone will now get his own special chapter in Yankee-Red Sox history. Not only does he beat the Sox with a game-winning home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, but his freak basketball injury this winter sets the stage for the Yankees to snag Rodriguez. This after the Red Sox were unable to swing a deal for A Rod earlier in the Hot Stove campaign. (Newsday is reporting today that Boston tried in vain in make a last-ditch effort over the weekend!)

One of the most stunning developments in the deal is just how financially reasonable it is for the Yankees. Tyler Kepner covers this angle thoroughly in The Times and Gordon Edes explains why the Red Sox valued finances more than acquiring Rodriguez in The Globe. The combination of the Yankees’ bankroll (not to mention good fortune) and another team’s desperation wins again. I think it’s important to note just when this trade happened–on the eve of spring training. The Yankees also swung big deals late in the winter for Chuck Knoblauch (February 6, 1998) and Roger Clemens (February 18, 1999) too.

Also this morning, Murray Chass writes about how the Yankees continue to show the Red Sox (and everybody else) how to win, while Jack Curry profiles the history of Rodriguez’s relationship with Yankee-captain, Derek Jeter.

Much of the early debate about the deal involves who should play shortstop. Yesterday I sided with those who think that moving Jeter and not Rodriguez to third was the right thing to do. But there were some good points made in the comments section of yesterday’s entry about the difficulties of playing third base.

As Tim Kurkjian noted in his latest column over at ESPN:

Third base requires power, a strong arm, great reflexes and tremendous courage. Former gold glover Doug Rader once said that playing third base “is like recovering a fumble.” Unlike shortstop, the ball is on you in an instant, there is no time to set your feet, sometimes the only play you have is to let the ball slam into your chest. It is an extremely difficult transition from shortstop: Rico Petrocelli and Jim Fregosi, among others, had a very hard time making the switch late in their careers. Cal Ripken made the move as seamlessly as one can, and we’re betting that Rodriguez in time will be a great defensive third baseman. But Ripken began his career as a third baseman. “I used to get hit in the (protective) cup all the time at third,” Ripken once said. “Then I moved to shortstop, and didn’t get hit there for 15 years. Then I moved back to third, and got hit again.”

Joel Sherman thinks that Rodriguez is a better fit at third too:

Jeter’s shortcoming at short is that he does not react well to the ball off the bat, which particularly limits going up the middle. Third base is even more of a reaction position and, therefore, would further exacerbate his deficiency, especially on those one-step and dive plays so intrinsic to the hot corner.

Will A-Rod have difficulties making the transition? Probably. But he possesses better tools to make the switch than Jeter. I believe Rodriguez can win a Gold Glove at third. I do not think that fathomable for Jeter.

“A-Rod may be a better third baseman than shortstop because he’s very reactionary,” an AL GM said. “What shocked me about him is how quickly he dives and gets up, and he has great hands, much better hands than Jeter.”

Sherman brings up Robin Yount when talking about Jeter’s future, and intimates that perhaps Rodriguez will eventually play short anyhow:

One AL executive said yesterday he thinks Rodriguez is Machiavellian enough to accept these conditions now, believing he is an injury to Jeter away from Wally Pipp-ing Jeter out of a job. The executive said he would avoid that by simply moving Jeter to second. But, like with third, Jeter’s skills might not translate to second well either.

Jeter could end up moving because George Steinbrenner decides to move from nightlife to range to tweak him. And Jeter would hardly look magnanimous if a case could be made that the team would be better with A-Rod at short, especially since A-Rod already has accepted a switch. It is just I anticipate Jeter will ultimately take the Robin Yount route and switch to the outfield; do keep in mind Jeter is spectacular at tracking balls in the air.

Regardless of who you think should play where, one thing is for certain: Jeter and Rodriguez are an irresistable storyline. While there is much being made about the ugly personalities of the new Yankees like Lofton, Brown and Sheffield, nothing tops the focus that Rodriguez and Jeter will command. Talk about a soap opera. Grown men will follow these two around all season hoping for fireworks, a cat fight. When I attended the Winter Meetings last December I thought the whole affair felt like a seventh-grade dance, except there were no girls. Well, Jeter and Rodriguez aren’t just girls, they are Divas.

Of course there is a natural rivalry between the two players, but I think they are too smart to become Thurman vs. Reggie. I expect them to turn their competitiveness into a positive, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league. (Madison Avenue, you haven’t seen nothing yet.)

There will be a lot less heat on guys like Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi with Rodriguez here. (And what about the quiet man, Bernie Williams? Remember him, the senior member of the team? He could have a sleeper year.) Whether you believe that the new guys will destroy the fabric of the clubhouse or whether you think they’ll revitalize the team, you can bet this Yankee team will be covered more closely than any Yankee team since the Bronx Zoo Era. I haven’t even mentioned the attention Don Mattingly (and to a far lesser extent, Roy White) will get for joining the coaching staff. And what about the massive attention that Hideki Matsui gets from the Japanese media?

This Yankee team is more star-studed and chock-full-of-nuts than a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. (Fragile as Joe Torre’s position seems to be, he’s no Billy Martin. Torre’s calm is more needed than ever, and it’s unlikely that he’d make any situation worse: he’s no meshuggener.) As Kurkjian commented, there will be no rest for the New York Press corps in 2004:

Say goodbye to your wife and children, fellas, your lives are over. Although there’s nothing better than having something to write about every day, the 2004 Yankees will be relentless from today until the end of the World Series. What if the Yankees start slowly? Will Joe Torre be fired? What if Jeter makes a few errors, will they want A-Rod at shortstop? What if A-Rod struggles mightily at third base? What happens if the Yankees don’t win the World Series? Gary Sheffield? Kevin Brown? Kenny Lofton? How will the chemistry in the clubhouse, which was once the ultimate strength of the Yankees, be affected by all these new faces and dominant personalities? It is a fascinating story, one with no end. Check back in eight months to see who is still standing.

The mainstream media won’t be alone of course (As a side note, has anyone else noticed that Peter Gammons has not been part of the media coverage over the weekend? What gives there?). There has been a steady growth of new baseball blogs over the past two years, and I can only imagine that several more Yankee and Red Sox blogs will appear before now and Opening Day. Hopefully, we’ll have some great new additions. For starters, Jamey Newburg, Larry Mahnken and my man Cliff C wrote terrific articles on the trade yesterday (Aaron Gleeman and Ed Cossette weigh in with their two cents today). The 2004 Yankees are a writer’s wet dream. With each twist and turn, writers will be able to enjoy their own Gloria Swanson moments as they rush to their computers and say, “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver