Season Ending, Yankee Melodrama Beginning
Next week, Major League Baseball and Alex Rodriguez will begin their eagerly anticipated legal showdown at the commissioner’s office in midtown Manhattan.
Welcome to the New York Yankees’ post-season!
To help put you in the mood, today’s New York Times introduces Rodriguez's All-Star defense team. (To extend the Times’ cute pun, its A-1 story on “A-Rod’s carefully assembled A-team.”)
It may not surprise you to learn that a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars is hiring a lot of expensive, high-profile lawyers and consultants to represent him. Or that these expensive, high-profile lawyers and consultants have a history of representing unsavory characters such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Bernard Kerik.
Just how high are the stakes of the A-Rod appeal? According to the Times, the showdown could “define” or “destroy” A-Rod’s legacy. (Pretty sure that ship has sailed.) As for MLB, well, A-Rod is nothing less than a “symbol of its efforts to fight doping.”
The Yankees, of course, are quietly rooting for MLB. To them, the A-Rod story isn’t about legacies or symbols. It’s about $114 million they hope to avoid paying Rodriguez if he’s forced to serve his 211-game suspension for steroid use and they can void his contract. Even for the franchise that brought you the Bronx Zoo, these are melodramatic days, what with the continuing Rodriguez saga and the endless Mariano Rivera farewell tour. This is what the Yankees have been reduced to -- trying to push one aging superstar off a cliff while milking another's retirement for nostalgia about the good old days.
The funny thing is that all of this could have played out against a very different backdrop. In a season in which the Yankees lost almost the entire top of their lineup to injuries while their pitching ace, C.C. Sabathia, turned into a pear, they still almost won a wild-card berth. (Even now, the team is not quite mathematically eliminated.) In fact, they probably would have won a wild-card if they had paid the modest salaries necessary to keep Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, who have both helped lead their new teams (Cleveland and Pittsburgh, respectively) to the playoffs. Somewhere between heaping scorn on an unloved superstar and lavishing attention on a beloved one, the Yankees seem to have forgotten that you need solid, rank-and-file ballplayers to win games.
This is all a prelude to the drama of next year, which will probably be Derek Jeter’s last. Yes, the Captain will almost certainly retire after the 2014 season. Things are going to get sloppy in the Bronx, people, professionally as well as emotionally. The team will be without Rivera, and quite possibly Rodriguez, too. Even if the Yankees re-sign Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda, who are both free agents, there isn’t a whole lot for fans to be optimistic about.
This may seem like a new reality. It's not. Despite all of the propaganda, the Yankees have not actually enjoyed a completely unbroken string of success since Babe Ruth joined the team. It may soon be time to usher in another Yankee tradition, one the franchise may have forgotten to tell you about: the fallow period that inevitably follows the toppling of every Yankee dynasty.
(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)