Thirty years ago, the film “Risky Business” came into our lives and the notion of someone striving to make money — “a lot of money,”as one of the cast members put it — became sexy. Very sexy.
I don’t know. Maybe Alex Rodriguez, who would have been eight years old when the Tom Cruise classic came out, saw the movie one too many times over the years and believed too strongly in the mantra of making money at the seeming exclusion of all else. He likes to make a lot of money.
He gets paid about $28 million a year by the New York Yankees, a baseball franchise that has turned historic Yankee Stadium into a fancy food court and memorabilia bazaar with a baseball diamond somewhere on the premises as well. Just as Tom Cruise chased the American Dream in the movie, A-Rod has done so on the diamond.
Yes, it is his right to get every single penny that the the Yankees (and before them, the Texas Rangers) want to throw his way. I just wonder if, in the long run, the financial payoff alone has been worth it to a player who is profoundly sensitive to public slights (such as when Yankee manager Joe Torre batted him low in the lineup during one of his chronic playoff funks). Who knows. If Rodriguez had stayed in Seattle — admittedly at a far reduced payout — he would have owned the town for as long as he lived, just as Derek Jeter does in New York City because of his great play — and loyalty to the town.
I suspect that Rodriguez would have been better off over all if he had never fled Seattle after the 2000 season to accept a record-breaking $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. A-Rod posted remarkable hitting stats in Texas but failed to make a dent in the playoffs, where true baseball fans measure an athlete’s real greatness. Meanwhile, by the end of 2003, his one-time buddy, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, had already appeared in his sixth World Series (making it six more than A-Rod) and was on his way to becoming one of the most beloved sports stars in the rich annals of New York City.
Rodriguez then left Texas in a trade for Alfonso Soriano and became the Yankees’ third baseman in 2004. He again proceeded to produce overwhelming statistics but mostly disappointed fans’ expectations in the post season. He never could steal Jeter’s gold dust, either, most often experiencing criticism while Jeter skated by, even though the Yankees failed to make it back to the World Series from 2004 to 2008, A-Rod’s prime years as a Yankee. At the same time, the steroids scandal dogged Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is now engaged in a mano a mano death match with his employer, the Yankees, in a legal spectacle and media circus that we’ve never quite witnessed before. Sure, players and management have had episodes of contract wrangling over the years but here, the participants are playing Monopoly with real greenbacks.
Major League Baseball gave Rodriguez a 211-game suspension earlier this month because of his alleged steroid use. A number of other stars, including Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and Texas’ Nelson Cruz, were banned from playing, though they received somewhat lighter sentences. As “Risky Business” taught us: “Sometimes you have to say, ‘What the f__. Make your move.”
Cruise went through the movie with a rather bemused look on his face, as if he knew it was all a goof. But not A-Rod. He is taking it all very personally. Of course, A-Rod has something like $100 million at stake here.
Rodriguez and his lawyers have since gone on the attack, charging the Yankees, most recently, with forcing him to play in the 2012 playoffs against the Detroit Tigers when he was injured and should have been sidelined (ah, now we know why he played so poorly!).
This is where it gets sticky. As a longtime Yankee fan, I’m not buying it. Anyone who watched the Yankees-Red Sox game on Sunday night, witnessed a rare public meltdown by Yankees manager Joe Girardi after Boston starting pitcher Ryan Dempster plunked Rodriguez. Girardi made like an infuriated George Brett and flew out of the dugout to get in the face of the umpire. Girardi got tossed out of the game (while Dempster, amazingly, remained to pitch).
Clearly Girardi wanted to protect his player from future beanings. Girardi did what any loyal, smart manager would do when one of his prime players (or any one of them, presumably) was being messed with. If the Yankees had such a deep grudge against Rodriguez, and were willing to reduce their chance of winning just to send him a statement, would Girardi have played an enraged Sir Gallahad to protect A-Rod? Like everyone else, Girardi seems rather bewildered by the off-field craziness. He just wants to win ballgames, and he has a better shot if Rodriguez is in the lineup.
(Rodriguez, by the way, answered by smashing a home run into the centerfield seats at Fenway Park, a Herculean accomplishment. The Yankees won the game, 9-6, and as I wrote on Facebook, the only thing missing from this blood sport was the site of Pedro Martinex tossing elderly Yankees coach Don Zimmer on to hte ground, as he did during the 2003 American League playoffs between these two ancient rivals.)
I’m not sure I quite understand why A-Rod has declared war on the Yankees. Legal experts have repeatedly said that the Yankees could probably not take back hte millions of dollars the team owes the player. A contract is paramount, they say.
For a player who, as Joe Torre astutely pointed out in his book about his Yankees years, wants desperately to be well liked, this is a risky strategy. You see, in pro sports, players come and go. But the franchise remains. In future years, don’t look for Rodriguez to grace Old Timers Day festivities at Yankee Stadium (not to mention, for that matter, Seattle or Texas).
Maybe if Rodriguez had stayed n Seattle, he would not have felt so pressured to keep up his superhuman image. Maybe he would have been a happier person. Maybe he would have resisted hte steroids if he had not come to New York. Who can say.
It’s easy for any of us to tell A-Rod he should have taken the money and stayed. But maybe it would have been the smart move. You can’t take it with you, A-Rod. If he doubts me, he can consult his battery of attorneys.