Once upon a time, Brian Cashman was the best baseball friend Alex Rodriguez ever had. The general manager of the New York Yankees actually went nose to nose with the two of the most iconic, untouchable figures in franchise history -- Derek Jeter and Joe Torre -- in an attempt to make the isolated A-Rod feel more at home.
In 2006, when Jeter treated Rodriguez in a manner unbecoming a captain, and used their famous collision and dropped pop-up as a platform to stare daggers through A-Rod, Cashman confronted the shortstop in the locker room. The GM ordered Jeter to knock it off, to perform a "self-test" on his responsibilities as a captain, and to "do a better job with Alex as far as embracing him."
The following season, after Torre reversed his initial stance and criticized Rodriguez for yelling "Ha!" while running past Toronto's Howie Clark, who was distracted enough to let a pop-up fall, Cashman reprimanded his manager for abandoning his star. The GM told Torre he would've never publicly hit Jeter, his homegrown and favored son, the way he publicly hit A-Rod.
Everyone was afraid of taking on Jeter and Torre back then, Rodriguez included, leaving Cashman to play the heavy. And if A-Rod ever appreciated how often the GM tried to help him, he had the funniest way of showing it.
Rodriguez nuked that relationship long before his witless tweet inspired Cashman to tell him to you know what, using ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand as messenger, and long before A-Rod's deferred call to Cashman on Wednesday evening. Their half-hour summit included team president Randy Levine and left team spokesman Jason Zillo to read a bogus, we're-all-back-on-the-same-page statement in the rear of the Yankee Stadium press box.
The same Jason Zillo who joined fellow Rodriguez friend Gui Socarras in shouting down A-Rod during a 2009 intervention in a Tampa diner that worked ... for six months, anyway. Rodriguez was indeed a low-drama act after his steroid confessional and hip surgery, and a stunning postseason force on the way to a parade that was supposed to liberate him forever. You know, like LeBron James' first parade liberated him.
Only Rodriguez is back to being that sad, isolated figure all over again, one in dire need of another post-surgery intervention. A-Rod now believes the Yankees are stalling his return to enhance their odds of having him declared medically unfit to play and to allow their insurance to kick in, sources told ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews.
Cashman denied that claim, but guess what? Even if the Yankees wanted to run the ol' Dean Smith four corners against Rodriguez, who could possibly blame them? The slugger with nine lives needed nine tweets from his new Twitter account to enrage his bosses. One source close to the situation said Cashman felt like he was back in the middle of the 2007 World Series, a Boston sweep of Colorado broken up by -- what else? -- A-Rod's cop out of an opt-out.
"I regret the choice of words I used [Tuesday] in my conversation with ESPN New York," Cashman said in his Wednesday news conference.
Yeah, he regretted the choice of one profane word, anyway. He did not regret the rest of it.
"Alex got the message," the GM said later as he headed up to his office, "and I'm not apologizing for it."
On the same day his $180 million first baseman, Mark Teixeira, was booked for surgery and ruled out for the season, Cashman fielded news conference questions on Rodriguez for 21 minutes and 13 seconds before the subject moved to Teixeira for the final 1 minute and 22 seconds. It was a remarkable statement on the staying power of Rodriguez, baseball's Justin Bieber times Lindsay Lohan times Britney Spears.
"Reality TV at its best," Cashman said of his own explosive reaction to the phenomenon.
But here's a sobering truth about A-Rod's pending return from his second hip injury: He's never going to change. He's never going to grow up. He's never going to stop proving to be more trouble than his $275 million contract is worth.
Sure, Hal Steinbrenner told him a thing or three about pinstriped protocol in Tampa, where Rodriguez pulled him out of a weight room (George Steinbrenner lifted weights while recruiting Roger Clemens; Hal Steinbrenner lifted weights before rebuking Alex Rodriguez). Just as surely as Rodriguez promised to behave forevermore, he'll break that promise before he breaks his first bat.
Go ahead and review his recent history, never mind the past PED use in Texas he copped to in 2009. Flirting with women in the stands after getting benched in a postseason game. Reportedly engaging in high-stakes poker games he was warned against participating in. Reportedly hanging on the road with cousin Yuri. Allegedly finding comfort in the care of Tony Galea, convicted HGH doctor to the stars, and Tony Bosch, besieged baron of Biogenesis.
In response to MLB's latest investigation, Rodriguez has denied receiving banned substances from Bosch. Of course, he pulled a Bob Arum four years ago (yesterday I was lying; today I'm telling the truth) when he opted out of previous claims and admitted to being a product of back-room pharmacology ... but only in Texas, and only before the penalty phase of the sport's drug program came into play.
Whatever. The guy turns 38 next month, another strong indicator that he won't temper his disruptive tendencies between now and the end of his contract, the fall of 2017, which only feels a million light years away.
The Yankees want him to disappear, badly, but they're overcome by a sinking feeling that they're stuck with him for the long haul. "Make no mistake," Cashman said, "if Alex Rodriguez is healthy, we want him and I want him playing third base for us yesterday. ... We're clearly a better team with him."
No, that isn't saying much when the Yankees keep suiting up guys Joe Girardi never heard of, forget the casual fan.
"Of course I want him here," Girardi said. "He's a guy that you can throw right in the middle of the order. ... I was anxious to get him back from the day I heard he started moving around and actually doing baseball activities."
Even in his diminished physical state, Rodriguez might actually help this suddenly faceless team win a wild card and claim the franchise's 18th postseason berth in 19 years.
"He's still better than what we're running out there," said one team official. "So we want Alex to play. The only reason he won't play is Biogenesis."
Suspension or no suspension, Rodriguez will continue playing the fool. It's who he is and what he does, simple as that.
In fact, his supposedly benign tweet expressing childlike glee over a return to the ball field was likely a right hook to the jaw belonging to Cashman, who spent Monday refuting a Daily News report that A-Rod had been cleared to play. A-Rod's refusal to return the GM's urgent email and calls (not to mention multiple calls from Levine) was his decisive left hook, and an act of insubordination that won't be forgotten.
Rodriguez fueled what Cashman called a "runaway train," more evidence (as if any was needed) that the GM was right when he voted against signing the slugger to that $275 million deal on the rebound in 2007. But even after A-Rod fessed up to taking "boli" in '09, Cashman pledged support in piecing his shattered Humpty Dumpty back together. In the winning World Series clubhouse months later, Cashman declared that Rodriguez had exorcised all of his demons and spoke hopefully of a new age of A-Rod appreciation in the Bronx.
But the GM is a Rodriguez man no more, and for good cause.
"I don't think there's anything left to deal with," he said, "unless I have to be put back in this position again."
Brian Cashman looked and sounded like a man knowing he'll be back in this position much sooner rather than later. He still has Alex Rodriguez on the roster, meaning it's going to be an awfully long four and a half years.