Right field: With Yankees out, let's play ball

A-Rod and his overpaid teammates have hogged the limelight, so much so that we've been missing the real October stories

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 1:50am

We should be hearing about one of the most memorable Octobers in the storied history of baseball. We should be hearing about the irrepressible spirit of teams like the St Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's, teams who have been down to their last breath, their last strike and have miraculously managed to cheat the hangman.

We should be hearing about the incomparable feats of Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, whose blazing fastball is the most lethal weapon in sports. We should be hearing about all these October stories and we are, at least to some degree. But because brilliance is often beguiling and soap operas sell, we are hearing more about the New York Yankees than every other play-off story combined.

Dysfunctional disorder in the most storied of American teams moves sports news cycles like nothing else and the Yankees are much more a soap opera than a baseball team. And right now the highest-paid player in baseball (at US$30 million per year) the Yankees sometimes third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, is more reality TV star than baseball player. The tabloid tales of treason, intrigue and ineptitude are a natural byproduct of the way the Yankees do business. Because of their over-inflated significance in the sporting firmament, the Yankees are not allowed to grow organically. They need big stars right now to satiate their fans so they spend like sailors on shore leave and, not surprisingly, often end up as a big-ticket squad lacking in proper chemistry.

A-Rod and first baseman Mark Teixeira make almost as much money as the entire 25-man roster of the A's, a plucky bargain-basement collection of overachievers all pulling in the same direction. The Yankees' misery is neither a mystery nor a hardship to their legion of haters. But now some of the animosity is coming from within.

There were thousands of empty seats when the Yankees opened their American League Championship Series against the Tigers. It hardly looked like a happening, never mind a play-off to get them into another World Series. And then in game one Derek Jeter, the team's anointed demi-god and perhaps the only player Yankee haters acknowledge any kind of love for, breaks his ankle and is lost for the rest of the post-season. Sympathy has always been in short supply for the Yankees outside of New York but now it's become a tired act for their own fans. After being swept out of the play-offs by the Tigers, the only thing more inglorious was the A-Rod situation. It's seems like a lifetime ago that a thin and raw 18-year-old high-school star from Miami debuted with the Seattle Mariners. Eighteen years later he has become one of the most accomplished players in the game's history.

Along the way he became the richest athlete ever in team sports, signing not one but two contracts for over US$250 million. He also is an admitted steroid user. And now at 37 his post-season performance was so underwhelming - three hits in 25 at-bats - he became a US$30 million benchwarmer as well as a major distraction. And yet, as he admits himself, it's always something else with him. According to a number of reports, A-Rod began flirting with a couple of girls behind the Yankees dugout after being pulled in game one and even had a ball boy take one of the girls a ball so she could write her phone number on it. And all this while his team were trying to come back from a four-run deficit.

It almost seems like that wildly talented 18-year-old waif in Seattle never existed because A-Rod doesn't belong to baseball anymore and really hasn't for a while. He's a fame junkie, right up there with the Kardashians. He's dated the likes of Madonna, Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz, along with his current paramour, former wrestling bombshell Torrie Wilson, and is much more valuable to the tabloids and TMZ then he is to the Yankees.

But the problem is the Yankees still owe him US$114 million over the next five years and he has clearly worn out his welcome with them. The Miami Marlins may have an interest in bringing him back home so, if the Yankees eat a big chunk of his contract, anything is possible. The Yankees will regroup, they always do. Their roster is old and the contracts are bloated. Still, they are the New York Yankees and nothing will keep them from being perpetually relevant. But for now, the circus is over. So tear down the big top, it's time for the World Series. It's time for baseball.