In 2004, when Alex Rodriguez desperately wanted out of Arlington, Texas, and almost as desperately wanted to be a New York Yankee, the apparent match made in baseball heaven ran into a snag.
The Yankees already had a shortstop. His name was Derek Jeter, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
So Rodriguez, in his athletic prime at 28, coming off both an MVP season and his second Gold Glove at the position where he was considered the best in the game, did what he had to do to make it work.
He changed positions. Just like that, he became a third baseman, and a very good one, virtually overnight. (He also had to give up his No. 3, but if you think it’s tough to displace Jeter, try arguing with Babe Ruth.)
For a player reviled as a “24-and-1 guy" by a failed Mets GM and almost universally considered around the league as a clubhouse cancer, it was the ultimate team sacrifice.
Twelve years later, here is how the Yankees are repaying that sacrifice: by humiliating him not only through the final month of his Yankees career, but virtually down to his final game.
That was on public display in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday night at Fenway Park, of all places, when, with the Yankees trailing 5-3, the bases loaded and chants of "We want A-Rod!" ringing in his ears, Joe Girardi stubbornly stuck with Mark Teixeira, who struck out looking to end the game.
No matter that on his bench sat the player with more grand slams than anyone in baseball history, or that even with limited playing time, A-Rod had still shown the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, as he did on July 18 at Yankee Stadium, belting one more than 440 feet into the distant left-field bleachers.
I haven’t even mentioned Teixeira’s .196 batting average (eight points lower than Rodriguez’s), his measly 10 home runs (one more than A-Rod in 87 more plate appearances) or his .620 OPS, only negligibly better than the man who has started only one game since July 22.
And oh yeah, in his only career at-bat against Matt Barnes, the pitcher brought in to replace Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, Rodriguez had hit a home run. That didn’t happen "many years ago," as was Girardi’s excuse for benching A-Rod against Bartolo Colon at Citi Field last week, but last Sept. 30.
This is a hell of a way to kick off a farewell tour, isn’t it?
Can you imagine Girardi benching Jeter for any of his final four games as a Yankee?
Clearly, Alex Rodriguez doesn’t afford the same kind of respect from the manager, or the organization he sacrificed a position to become a part of.
There’s no way A-Rod would have made that move for any other team, or any other player. Can you imagine him moving to third so Nomar Garciaparra could stay at shortstop if his trade to the Boston Red Sox had been approved, or for Rey Ordonez had he been signed by the Mets in 2001, the team he really wanted to play for?
Of course not.
But A-Rod did it for the Yankees, and for Jeter, which renders their treatment of him during the final stretch of his Yankees career more than disturbing.
It almost seems vindictive.
No less an authority on vindictiveness than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered the opinion that the shabby treatment of A-Rod in his final week was the work of team president Randy Levine, out of revenge for the acrimonious appeal of his 211-game suspension in 2013.
"If he wants to play in every game, I'll find a way."But conversations I have had with informed sources in the organization assure me this is Girardi’s call, in consort with some of his coaches.Joe Girardi on Alex Rodriguez
“Joe believes he’s done," one source told me. “And he’s still trying to win these games."
A fine job he’s doing with the likes of Teixeira and Aaron Hicks, a .192 hitter who made another embarrassing misplay in right field Tuesday night, in his starting lineup.
But you needn’t work through back channels to understand that it’s the manager who is keeping A-Rod out of the lineup, even in his final week in pinstripes.
All you need to do is go back to Sunday’s news conference, when he was asked if he would play Rodriguez in any of the three games in Boston.
“I’m going to talk to him as we move forward here," a clearly uncomfortable Girardi said. “Probably sit down and talk with him Tuesday when we get to Boston. Maybe after the game [Sunday] to see where he’s at mentally and what he kind of wants in the end here. So I’ll sit down and talk to him.
“If he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way."
A-Rod’s statements Tuesday after he learned he was not in the starting lineup exposed that for the lie it was.
“It was surprising and shocking," Rodriguez said. “He has his opinion, I have mine."
Clearly, Rodriguez thinks he can still play -- do not be at all surprised if he jumps at an offer from another team after the Yankees officially release him following Friday’s game -- and who can blame him for believing the Yankees have set him up to fail by limiting his at-bats to ensure he'd never get into a groove at the plate again?
Something doesn’t sit right about this whole affair, whether you love or hate Alex Rodriguez. (It is a safe assumption that no one reading this column is neutral on the subject.)
What the manager should have said was, "This is Alex Rodriguez’s last week as a big-league ballplayer, and I’m going to pencil him into my lineup in every one of the next four games."
It would have been the decent thing to do, if only to allow a phenomenally talented player an abbreviated victory lap, or, more likely at Fenway, one more run through the gauntlet.
And not incidentally, it would have given him one last shot at 700 home runs, a milestone reached by only three other players in history.
But that would have to be a different manager, not the rigid, joyless man who writes out the Yankees' lineup card each day and clings to the fiction, against all logic, that his team is still in some kind of a postseason chase.
You can point at Rodriguez’s many transgressions -- the two PED admissions, the 162-game suspension, the ball slap, the fake “I got it!" shout, the various verbal contradictions and hypocrisies, the times when he could be condescending and even rude -- as justification for the way he has been treated at the end of his Yankees career.
But if you do that, you also must acknowledge the sacrifice he made, and the risk he took, to be a part of this team in the first place.
To be sure, A-Rod did plenty to tarnish his own image, and he sowed the seeds for deep resentment within the Yankees' organization, as he would be the first to admit.
But I have yet to meet a teammate who disparaged his work ethic, his desire to win, his willingness to help or his love for playing baseball. Or dispute his love for the New York Yankees.
Those are the things a manager like Girardi claims to value in his players most of all.
But when it came time to repay Alex Rodriguez for his service to the team, Girardi turned a blind eye to all of that, and a deaf ear to the wishes of a normally hostile crowd.