"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky # 32: Compare and Contrast

The convergence of A-Rod’s contract sans Boras, Barry Bonds’ perjury and obstruction of justice indictment and Derek Jeter’s tax debt to the state of New York occurs at an interesting time. Here we have three of baseball’s biggest stars: the highest paid and arguably most talented at this moment; the home run king whose record and entire baseball existence is now shrouded in an SF-shaped asterisk; and the golden boy. The first two are respected for their talent but the fan reaction to each is split. The last is the golden boy.

Stories of this magnitude have the potential to shape public perception of the player. Judging from the local and national treatment of the Hall of Fame trio’s recent financial dealings, Jeter may be acquitted in the court of public opinion yet again, A-Rod and Bonds, however, may not.

The Canadian Press hinted at that in a Saturday report:

It was all Bonds all season as he chased Hank Aaron’s record. And it was still all about him in the past week.

Four years of pursuit by prosecutors culminated in the indictment that seemed nearly certain as his breaking of the home-run record. After walking to first base at a record pace, he’ll be taking a perp walk soon for his arraignment on four counts of perjury and one for obstruction of justice.

His appearance in federal court is scheduled for Dec. 7 — which used to be a free-agent deadline day in baseball and marks the opening night of the opera season at the famous La Scala in Italy. There is, however, little expectation that Bonds will sing, not after all these years of denials that he used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.

That overshadowed all other sports news. . . .

. . . Forget all that talk about the Yankees taking away his pinstripes forever and perhaps burning them like one of those bonfires that smoked outside the ballpark in the 1970s. After his $275-million, 10-year deal is finalized, he’s destined to wind up in Monument Park, probably after breaking Bonds’ home-run mark and assuredly after filling too many front and back pages to count speedily.

Now A-Rod gets more chances to flop or not in the postseason – assuming the Yankees continue their streak of 13 straight playoff appearances. Now he again gets to compete for attention across the clubhouse with captain Jeter, who must have been happy the other events reduced his headlines to near agate type. Now the tabloids can stay alert for blond strippers A-Rod might be seen with on future road trips.

The old Charles Barkley “I am not a role model” Nike commercial comes to mind. We’ve discussed the athletes-as-people situation in this space throughout the season, particularly with A-Rod. For the most part, responses have taken this stance: “If he performs on the field, it doesn’t matter what kind of person he is.” Maybe that’s the right stance to take. After all, public figures or people of high social status have acted above societal norms for thousands of years, so why should we expect anything else from Jeter, A-Rod or Bonds?

And maybe it’s irresponsible — and hypocritical — for the media to continue to hold these athletes to a higher behavioral standard. Ethics of reporters, columnists and editors are called into question all the time. Some reporters have published information that was intended to be off the record in order to add spice to their bylines. Other reporters have fabricated sources and plagiarized.

All those philosophical components came to mind as I poured through the local and national material this week.

In the last three weeks, Alex Rodriguez went from puppet of agent to “if he doesn’t want to be a Yankee, then we don’t want him” to going rogue and negotiating on his own behalf on the advice of a billionaire, to remain a Yankee. Eggo doesn’t have this kind of penchant for waffling. I still don’t know what to make of the entire situation from an analytical perspective. It could mean the end of Scott Boras, Superagent, master of securing megadeals for mediocre players.

Based on everything that’s happened, as a Yankee fan, are you happy he’s back? Indifferent? Will you root for him?

Barry Bonds has been a headline item all year. Former commissioner Fay Vincent told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "the public will treat this with a big yawn. We’ve all known this was a strong possibility for some time. I think the public has already discounted it.”

Even though I agree with Vincent here, I think this quote says more about the media than it does about the Bonds situation. Why is Fay Vincent still the go-to guy for cleaning up the game? It goes back to the media wanting to hold baseball to a higher moral standard, and there’s a general belief Vincent did that, through his involvement in the Pete Rose investigation and his actions as Commissioner, perhaps most notably, his banning of George Steinbrenner. But the fact is he irritated the owners for much of his tenure. He resigned in 1992 after an 18-9 no-confidence vote. If he had a better relationship with the owners, and if they wanted the game cleaned up, maybe he’d still be commissioner. Stop going to him for quotes. The writers and gatekeepers seem to be the only ones who care what he has to say.

Isn’t this a lighter version of Bonds’ tax problems, except without the home run record and steroid suspicion? Adam Nichols of the Daily News is correct in his column. Jeter will be able to repair his reputation. He came through Miami situation just fine, didn’t he?


  • A reporter and a columnist from two prominent local papers are leaving their dailies and jumping to national outlets. T.J. Quinn, arguably the best investigative reporter in the area, has left the Daily News to join the newly formed investigative reporting unit at ESPN.com. Also joining him is Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-author of “Game of Shadows.” Along with Quinn and Fainaru-Wada, 13 other reporters, already with the dot.com and mag, form the team. (If you’ve read any of his E-Ticket pieces, my fellow Ithaca alum Mike Fish, who broke the Tennessee booster scandal, is likely in this group also.) … News was released Friday that Selena Roberts is leaving the N.Y. Times to join Sports Illustrated. While I haven’t agreed with many of the theories she posits in her columns, I’ve always respected Roberts as a writer and considered her work provocative from an intellectual standpoint. She’ll be a great addition to SI, joining fellow ex-NY daily writers Tom Verducci, Peter King and Jon Heyman (all former Newsday scribes) on that staff. 
  • Speaking of Verducci, count him as the latest victim of the brass’s wrath when it comes to appearances on the YES Network. Based on comments in his Oct. 18 column, where he stated team ownership looked “cowardly” following Joe Torre’s departure, and his collaboration with Torre on an upcoming book, the Network fired him from “Yankees Hot Stove,” where he was a staple since 2003. Some other notable YES-related spurnings include: 1) Don Zimmer being banned from TV appearances on YES or from speaking to YES reporters based on his criticisms of ownership; 2) David Cone’s perfect game being pulled from the “Yankees Classics” rotation after he made a comeback with the Mets; 3) David Wells’ perfect game being pulled from the “Yankees Classics” rotation after he signed with the Red Sox.

Next week … Turkey-themed Banter.

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