On the list of decisions that Alex Rodriguez has made that ended up embarrassing him and the team he plays for, his ninth tweet, sent out last night from Tampa saying that a team doctor had cleared him to play games again, isn't even in the top 500. But it's the one that finally pushed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman over the edge.
Cashman, while talking to reporters last night, said that Rodriguez "should just shut the f--- up. That's it." To remind, reporters are people who are paid to write down exactly what you say and then make a big deal out of it. (In New York, the latter is more important than the former.) Suffice it to say, that's happening. The New York Post didn't even need to bother coming up with a snappy headline.
This has turned into yet another Alex Rodriguez is a dope story, and hey, piling on A-Rod is undeniably fun. But let's not pretend this isn't about anything other than money. With A-Rod and Yankees, it always is.
Alex Rodriguez signing up for Twitter, all told, reeked of disaster the minute he did it (or, more accurately, some PR firm fooling A-Rod into thinking it was ever going to help him). It was only a matter of time until he stepped in it. He did his best not to for his boring first few tweets -- "First time facing live pitching today in over 8 months. Felt good to put on my helmet and metal cleats." "Simulated game yesterday -- nice to see real game pitching action!" -- and he immediately revealed himself as one of those athletes who have no idea how to use Twitter and thus there's no need to follow. (This is most athletes. Most people, really.) The tweet about being told he was ready to play games -- which was told to him by a doctor, a doctor wearing a Yankees shirt -- must have seemed like nothing.
But as always, A-Rod has an unerring inability to comprehend context. All told, in a baseball sense, Cashman had a point, I suppose. There is a chain of command for baseball teams on injuries. "That is the process. It goes through our training staff, our doctors, our GM and then it probably gets to me," manager Joe Girardi said after the game last night. Teams hate it when the process is disrupted. Remember, baseball teams are bureaucratic organizations just like the place you work; this isn't all that different than forgetting to put the cover on the TPS reports. Annoying, but if this were Jayson Nix, no one would notice or care.
But this wasn't Jayson Nix. It's A-Rod; thus sprang Cashman's outburst. Now, Brian Cashman has been the general manager of the Yankees for 15 years and has worked for the organization for 27. There isn't a single person on earth who understands better the interaction between the Yankees and the media who cover them. There's no one who knows more what will happen when the general manager of the team tells the most derided player in team history -- the guy who reporters love to kick around, back and forth to each other, for sport -- to "shut the f--- up." He knows the hell he unleashed.
In the context of the 2013 Yankees and A-Rod's attempts to come back from injury, Cashman's comment was the very definition of counterproductive. The Yankees desperately need some offense out of their third baseman -- they're currently starting something called "David Adams" there -- and for all his problems and ailments, A-Rod is still a league-average third baseman, at the minimum. (Even falling apart last season, he still put up a 113 OPS+.) The one thing Cashman was theoretically imploring A-Rod to do -- to be quiet, to not be the perpetual distraction he has been for the Yankees -- is the one thing that Cashman assured will now be impossible. It's one thing to tell A-Rod not to tweet out injury updates; it is quite another to tell a room full of folks with notebooks that A-Rod needs to "shut the f--- up." This is New York: That is chum in the water. (It's actually chum covered in blood covered in the scent of a rabid shark's lifelong enemies, covered then with more chum.) The head of the Yankees telling Alex Rodriguez to shut the f--- up? Good Lord, they will talk about that forever here. Brian Cashman just made it even more impossible than it already was for Alex Rodriguez, who has been working to return to the Yankees for nine months and is actually getting close, to ever get a fair shake in this town again.
Though that was probably the point. Brian Cashman is as savvy operator as the sports scene in New York has ever seen; he knows precisely what he's doing. Thanks to the Biogenesis business and a league-wide exhaustion with both the player and the whole topic that's similar to that final year of Barry Bonds' career (when, despite a .488 OBP the season before, he mysteriously couldn't find a single suitor to sign him), A-Rod's public persona is an all-time low right now. (And that's saying something.) If there were ever a chance to pile on A-Rod, this is it. Remember, the Yankees still owe A-Rod $105 million over the next four years, plus this season, money they desperately could use a refund on. Money they gave A-Rod in the first place, of course, but money they're still holding out hope for regardless. It is in Cashman's and the Yankees' best interests, long term, to make life as uncomfortable for A-Rod as they possibly can. Maybe he'll get fed up and retire. Maybe he'll beg for a trade. Maybe he'll decide he doesn't want to leave Florida after all.
The Yankees try to pretend they have options with A-Rod's contract, but they don't. His contract is not a public referendum; it is a binding legal document with a union that will fight to the death to assure that guaranteed contracts remain exactly that. The only things they can do is hope that A-Rod is somehow suspended by Major League Baseball -- which could happen, though that's a whole other Pandora's Box -- or try to make matters so miserable for A-Rod that he takes his ball and goes home. That's clearly the strategy here. A-Rod's mistake was a minor one -- one that happens all the time, by the way -- but Cashman's response was calculated, measured and made in full knowledge of what would come next.
I don't think it's going to work. I don't think A-Rod is going to retire, and I don't think anyone's vaporizing A-Rod's contract the way the Yankees wish it would. I think Cashman just made things so much harder for A-Rod because he could, because they want out from under the contract more than they want just about anything else. No one will shed any tears for A-Rod, but Cashman's comment was unfair, self-serving and, at its core, just mean. He's using A-Rod as a punching bag because everyone uses A-Rod as a punching bag, and because it might save him some money. You almost want to tell him to shut the f--- up.
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