Yanks should've called A-Rod's bluff

Things have gotten so bad between Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees that A-Rod no longer feels safe discussing a leg injury on a conference call with his bosses without a lawyer at his side.

That should tell you all you need to know about this dysfunctional relationship, which still has 4½ years to run and nearly $100 million to waste.

There's really no sense in sugarcoating it any longer: They neither like one another nor trust one another. They can hardly stand to be on the same phone line together, let alone in the same room.

And yet, as impossible as it might be to ever see this failed marriage between the Yankees and their $275 million third baseman ever recovering, it is just as hard to figure a way that it will end.

No one is going to take A-Rod off the Yankees' hands, and Hal Steinbrenner will swallow molten lava before he swallows what's left on A-Rod's contract.

But believe it or not, there was a way out of this thing for the Yankees. A way so simple that it's hard to believe not one of the devious minds in their front office saw it for him or herself.

All they needed to do was call Alex Rodriguez's bluff.

As soon as A-Rod sent Brian Cashman that email, or text message, or smoke signal or semaphore or whatever he sent him the other night stating (A) I'm ready to play and (B) I'd like to play Friday night, Cashman should have sent one right back.

One that said, "Forget Friday night. Get on the next plane to Dallas. You're in the starting lineup for Thursday's game against the Rangers."

With one shot, Cashman would have knocked out the conspiracy theory that the Yankees are in any way slowing down Rodriguez's return to the club.

And he would have knocked the ball back into A-Rod's court.

Instead of telling him to "shut up," as he did a couple of weeks ago, Cashman would have been giving Rodriguez the chance to put up or shut up.

And at that point, A-Rod would have had no choice but to take the bait, or risk truly being in breach of his contract for insubordination and failing to comply with a club order.

That would have been a much more interesting, and definitive, conclusion to a drama that is starting to drag out like 35 seasons of "As the World Turns."

We would have learned in one day what will now take a couple of more weeks to truly know -- namely, how badly does Alex Rodriguez still want to play baseball, and how well is he still able to do it?

In place of that, we get what we had today, a five-part, he-said/she-said miniseries in which each side had its say, at seemingly regular intervals, and yet at the end of it all, nothing has really been decided.

It started with A-Rod putting out his own second opinion in his own questionable PR strategy from Wednesday, when he set a mic-happy orthopedic surgeon named Michael Gross loose on the media with his opinion that what the Yankees were calling a Grade 1 quad strain didn't look like one very much at all to him.

That was a pretty serious allegation, with its implications of medical record falsification, insurance fraud and a big, bad, mercenary organization trying to take advantage of a poor, powerless working stiff, even if the stiff is making $28 million this season.

That gambit didn't look so good in the cold light of Thursday morning, especially when it was revealed that the good doctor had been slapped on the wrist by the state of New Jersey for a variety of minor misconducts that unfortunately had the S-word -- for steroids -- attached to them.

So A-Rod started his day by releasing a statement that sounded a lot like he was asking for a do-over.

"I think the Yankees and I crossed signals," it began, ending with the Boss-like battle cry, "Enough doctors. Let's play!"

That would have been enough for most days, but it was followed by another examination of the famous quad, by another doctor (Dan Murphy) in Tampa, who came up with the same result the Yankees team doctor, Chris Ahmad, found earlier in the week -- a Grade 1 strain.

That was followed by the conference call with Cashman and team president Randy Levine, to which A-Rod brought his lawyer as if it were a sit-down among the Five Families.

And then, it was Cashman holding a conference call for the Yankees beat writers, the purpose of which seemed to be to tell the world that the Yankees had retaken control of the situation and that A-Rod was once again prepared to dance to their music.

And still, that wasn't enough. Rodriguez decided he had to have the last word by doing an interview with a sports talk radio show during which he paid lip service to the Yankees' authority -- "At the end of the day, I have bosses, and they have a plan and a protocol" -- but the most telling moment came when he was asked if he "trusted" the Yankees.

"I'd rather not get into that," he said, after an audible sigh. "I'm just frustrated I'm not on the field. I'll just leave it at that."

So instead of a socko finish to this sordid affair, we get another day of mealy-mouthed statements and inconclusive pronouncements.

All we know is that, for now, Alex Rodriguez is going to go along with what he and the Yankees are calling a "five-day plan" of rest and treatment, followed by a rehab game -- either of the minor league or simulated variety -- tentatively scheduled for August 1.

And after that, no one knows for sure how many rehab games Rodriguez will need, or when he might yet return to the big club.

In the meantime, the unseen hand of Major League Baseball lurks in the background, ready to snatch Rodriguez into the purgatory of a long-term suspension for his role in the Biogenesis affair.

This, my friends, is the definition of a long journey to nowhere.

The pity is, it could have all been brought to a head so quickly and easily had the employer just put it straight to the employee: If you're truly fit to work, then report for duty. Immediately.

After all, with all the differences between the Yankees and Rodriguez, there is one subject they do seem to agree on.

He says he wants to play. And they say they want him to play.

Too bad they missed the perfect opportunity for both sides to prove it.