I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that Mets fans presently are just fine with ceding the back pages of the local sports sections to the Yankees.
Granted, the Amazin's have little to boast about after losing an ugly game on Sunday to the Kansas City Royals and losing David Wright to the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Neither of those realities, or the ongoing flirtations with another sub-.500 season, will hardly make a dent on talk radio today as the Yankees prepare to welcome Alex Rodriguez back into the fold tonight against the Chicago White Sox.
There's a lot to be said about A-Rod and Major League Baseball's impending suspension of him and whether the Biogenesis probe has any merit whatsoever. But the one thing I keep thinking about the polarizing slugger is a scouting report about the former Seattle shortstop that was offered 13 years ago:
"The 24-plus-one-man structure really doesn't work." - Steve Phillips
If ever that philosophy were to be tested, it will be tonight.
No, the former Mets general manager doesn't get off the hook entirely for passing on Rodriguez. Rodriguez is overpaid now by all measures, but he was one of the greatest hitters of the 2000s and earned most of his salary over that time. (Fun fact: Last year, A-Rod had a 2.0 WAR according to FanGraphs. That would've been good enough for second in the Mets offense in 2012, just ahead of Ruben Tejada's 1.8 WAR offering.) Phillips was probably right not to overpay for the Scott Boras client, but PEDs or no, there's no question that the former Mets GM missed on a pretty sure thing.
That said, Phillips was also one of the first to call the Seattle phenom a primadonna, and immediately triggered a response that now sounds like vintage A-Rod from a guy who had just taken $250 million from the Texas Rangers:
"All I can say is, I wish I could play against Steve Phillips' team and lead 24 guys to beat 'em up," Rodriguez said Tuesday. "I don't know Steve personally, but obviously he has an agenda against me. . . . Now everyone thinks I'm selfish."
Hindsight's 20/20, sure, and again, A-Rod did mostly deliver the goods on that contract (even if the delivery involved a lot of unappreciated emotional baggage). Yet, as I watch the A-Rod commentaries and read the A-Rod recaps, I just keep thinking to myself: Between the Collapse of 2007 and the collapse of 2008 and the Madoff death spiral that the club has been trapped in ever since, the Mets absolutely dodged a bullet on this one that historically would've hit us right in the sweet spot.
And now, A-Rod is fighting for himself against all comers. He's battling a MLB commissioner in Bud Selig who's trying to cover up his shortcomings in handling PEDs over the past decade. He's graplling with a current GM in Brian Cashman and a Steinbrenner family who would prefer to not shell out the remaining $86 million for Rodriguez's services through 2017, nor the $3 million signing bonus he's owed next January, nor the $6 million he's guaranteed for every home run milestone he passes along the way. (And A-Rod's just 13 home runs shy of triggering the first of those bonuses, which would tie him with Willie Mays for fourth all-time.)
Sure, he's a Yankee. If A-Rod's ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he'll likely be enshrined as a Bronx Bomber. Moreover, he'll never win the hearts and minds of Mets fans who had to ask themselves "What if?" since Phillips walked away from negotiations in 2000. Maybe we Mets fans can't let Phillips off the hook for calling out A-Rod instead of coddling him enough to believe that Shea Stadium was a nice play to call home.
None of that history changes the fact that Rodriguez is on his own now. He's now the very definition of a "24-and-1" baseball player since no one, not the league nor his teammates, will step up and say, "He's okay." There is no one who is publicly in A-Rod's corner at the moment, and that likely won't change even with all the good PR that the copious amount of A-Rod's money could buy. There's something admirable about the story of a ballplayer struggling to ensure he gets his day in court, but the moral high road sinks into a morass once the followers of the story are reminded of the protagonist's identity. And A-Rod, despite his best efforts or personal delusions, can't change that.
Phillips' "24-and-1" comment remains particularly prescient as Rodriguez presumably gets suspended today and follows that news by making his 2013 debut in the Yankees lineup tonight. Maybe you're okay with that and maybe you're not. Maybe you're enjoying a steady diet of schadenfreude or maybe you just want him to go away.
It doesn't really matter since A-Rod's all alone on the podium these days. It's just a shame that the circus surrounding him these days doesn't have the side tent he asked for in 2000 that would have exclusively sold A-Rod merchandise.