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Selig works himself to a full count with A-Rod trade

February 24, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

For once, it really is a whole new ball game.

Baseball has changed - again - and this time, it really is going to test the imagination of its fans.

It used to be most of the drama of the grand old game was saved for October in the playoffs and the World Series. The season came down to one at-bat, one play or one pitch. It was saving the best for last.

It changed this season. Most every team is just flocking south like Canadian geese to begin preparation for the 2004 season.

The first exhibition game hasn't even been scorecarded and already the game's biggest pitch of the season was thrown.

It came last week. The batter was Commissioner Bud Selig and he took a cut at a full-count curveball in the dirt.

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The big pitch was Alex Rodriguez's trade from Texas to the New York Yankees, possibly the modern-day "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

Here's a recap of Bud Selig's at-bat, in case you missed it ...

  • First pitch - Ball One, way outside. Selig's judgment was in a way noble, but misguided. By allowing the A-Rod deal, he helped Texas get out from under the $252 million contract the shortstop signed.

    The Rangers have been unable to come up with the money to sign players to improve their chances of contending in the American League West. Pitching is an eight-letter word for the Rangers and theirs has left fans cursing.

    By allowing Rodriguez to go to one of the two or three teams in baseball which could absorb the financial burden of the pact, the Rangers shooed the huge albatross from around their neck and gave them hope.

    Problem is, Selig is giving owner Tom Hicks a do-over. He should have thought of those problems before he offered A-Rod the contract in the first place. Aren't you supposed to live with the consequences of your decisions?

  • Second pitch - Ball Two, inside near the head. Allowing A-Rod to go to New York just helps enhance the Yankees' image as the marquee team in the sport.

    Like the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA, the Yankees' are the baseball team that fans either love or hate - there is no in-between.

    Fans tune in every time they play either to cheer or jeer. It's like watching NASCAR for the crashes or the NHL for the fights.

  • Third pitch - fastball over the heart of the plate. The biggest complaints from fans today are the prices of the games and the salaries of the players. Allowing A-Rod to go to New York doesn't help defuse those perceptions.

    The Yankees' payroll is hovering around $190 million. That total to pay 25 players is probably enough to run the Major League teams in Kansas City, Detroit, Florida, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee combined.

    Proponents of free agency say that's the problem of the small market teams. It's the have-nots griping about what the haves have. It's true, to an extent, but the business side of baseball - and the economics of this trade - pounds home the idea that winning is everything, no matter how much it costs.

  • Fourth pitch - Fastball way inside, backs Selig away from the plate. Baseball was in dire need of a blockbuster, a big headline to make the world sit up and take notice as the season approached.

    The NFL and the Super Bowl had all the attention, which spilled over for a week or so into February. The NBA's big buzz is LeBron James (on the good side) and Kobe Bryant (on the bad side).

    And now, a month before the season starts, baseball and A-Rod are the hot topic at the workplace water cooler and every post-work watering hole across the country.

  • Fifth pitch - Big curve on the outside corner. If you are a Yankee fan, it's the greatest thing that has ever happened. You are lining up for World Series tickets already and saving supermarket slips for the tickertape parade.

    Fans of the game of baseball are taking a queasy, wait-and-see attitude about it all.

    But for the ardent hometown fans around the country, the luster of backing your team dulled a little. No matter how true fans are, they become fair-weather fans when it comes to supporting a team that doesn't have a chance to win a championship.

    Average fans don't pay to watch someone play for second place, even if it isn't a lead pipe cinch that the Yankees will win it all.

    New York fans have paid for A-Rod's contract already by buying more tickets to home games and team jerseys with Rodriguez on the back. Tickets for New York road games will be harder to find, probably guaranteeing 162 sellout performances for the Yankees.

    The problem is only 16 teams will enjoy the impact of Yankees-mania - the other 13 American League teams and three National League teams during interleague play. And they will only benefit for three to eight games.

    Meanwhile, the Mets at Montreal, Milwaukee at Florida and Detroit at Tampa Bay games will continue to play in front of large Brownie troops.

  • Here's the payoff pitch.

    The commissioner made his decision and baseball has to live with it.

    Time will tell if Selig has foul tipped, hit a home run or swung over the top of a bad pitch with the future of baseball as his bat.



Yes, it's a whole new ball game.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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