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ISSUE 120 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/4/2007

Inside the Lines: An invitation to A-Rod

By Pat Bottini
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 4, 2007

George Bernard Shaw once said of baseball, "What is both surprising and delightful is that spectators are allowed, and even expected, to join in the vocal part of the game... There is no reason why the field should not try to put the batsman off his stroke at the critical moment by neatly timed disparagements of his wife's fidelity and his mother's respectability."

Obviously, Shaw had never been to Yankee Stadium.

Volumes have been written on the Yankees' villainous nature, not to mention their fickle fan base, so I will avoid discussing their general abhorrence. But this recent headline from the New York Daily News, printed before the season's start, stirred my hatred for the "Evil Empire," and its plodding minions: "A-Rod follies will be ratings hit for YES Network all season long."

Think about that statement.

The Yankees' own broadcast network highly anticipates the poor performance of Alex Rodriguez, the team's All-Star third baseman, a four-time league home run leader, two-time MVP, Gold Glove winner, perennial Silver Slugger and a man that Sports Illustrated called one of the best players ever. A star player's potential to under-perform boosts his team's profit? In any other city, something just wouldn't add up. Welcome to the Big Apple.

A-Rod's "struggles" in 2006 were widely chronicled by the New York and national press. They reached the boiling point in June after a loss to the Braves when YES announcer David Justice attacked A-Rod for his lack of "clutch" hitting. Speculation was that team owner George Steinbrenner orchestrated the criticism.

For the rest of the summer, a media circus reigned. From the New York Times to Sports Illustrated, A-Rod was questioned, criticized and derided.

The culmination of this circus came in a series against rival Boston when Jason Giambi, drawing upon his benevolent superiority, called A-Rod out on the "f---ing dinkers" he had been hitting in the series and criticized him in front of teammates and the national media.

The lambasting by Justice and Giambi only intensified criticism from fans, visually distracting A-Rod. If there's anything New Yorkers like more than winning, it's booing.

Never mind that A-Rod's 2006 stats (.290 BA, .392 OBP, .523 SLG) better Justice's achievements and stand identical to Giambi's career numbers. Never mind that A-Rod batted 37 points higher than Giambi last season. Never mind that Giambi admitted to taking anabolic steroids and human growth hormone during his best statistical years. Damn, it's easy to hate the Yankees!

According to the VORP statistic, which measures a player's value over an average replacement at his position, A-Rod was the 14th most valuable player in the league last season. The only Yankee more valuable was Derek Jeter, who had a career year. Relentlessly comparing the infield-mates, Yankee fans embraced Jeter and spurned A-Rod with cries for a mid-season trade.

A-Rod has rebounded this season from last year's "down year" as one of the top 15 players in the league. A-Rod is batting .378 and is on pace to hit more homers than there are prescription drug bottles in Barry Bonds' locker. His VORP is more than three times that of the next highest third baseman.

And the boos have dissipated. The crowds of unrequited lovers have become adoring groupies. The same New York Daily News that anticipated a profitable implosion from A-Rod now calls him "Alex The Great."

Any relationship counselor can tell you that such a one-sided, fair-weather coupling has only one ending. Someone needs to get dumped. As a disciple of Twins GM Terry Ryan, I feel that this is a perfect opportunity to extend an invitation.

Come to Minnesota, Alex.

Stick with me here. In the past seven years, you have accrued over $150 million in contract money. You're not exactly financially insecure. In the past three years, the New York fans and media have treated you with the warmth of a convicted serial killer.

If you come to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you will have to take a substantial pay cut. But what price do you put on happiness these days, A-Rod? What price will you pay to turn those vicious boos into appreciative cheers? Take the pay cut and play for the Twins. We have the best pitcher and catcher in baseball, a new stadium on the way and a first baseman who supports his teammates and produces on the field.

You will end your career as the greatest player to ever put on cleats. Where and how you do that is your decision. Don't rule out the Twins because we are a "small market" franchise. What we lack in televisions we make up for in heart. Ask Joe Mauer. Ask Harmon Killebrew. Ask Kirby Puckett. Quality of life is the greatest measure of value, greater than money and greater than publicity.

Alex, Minnesota will make baseball fun again. And if you can make it here, we'll love you no matter what.

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