February 15, 2004

You're so vain, you probably think this blog is about you...

It appears as though my entry from Friday about Paul DePodesta becoming the new GM for the Dodgers was a tad premature. With that in mind, and at the risk of writing back-to-back entries that completely jump the gun, I have a few things to say about Alex Rodriguez joining the Yankees.

Basically, I don't like it.

I've been accused of being a "Yankee hater" before for things I've written here (mostly about Derek Jeter), but the fact is that I don't dislike the Yankees at all. In fact, if I sat down and listed all 30 major league teams in order of how much I like them, I think the Yankees would probably show up in the upper half.

I think they are a well-run ballclub. I like their uniforms. I like their ballpark. I like their former special assistant to the traveling secretary. I especially enjoy their incredible tradition and team history.

At the same time, there are certain aspects of the Yankees that I don't particularly enjoy. For one thing, the amount and type of media attention they get. I've written about this before, particularly in regard to things like Tim McCarver fawning over Derek Jeter or various announcers talking about things like "mystique and aura." For anyone who isn't a huge fan of the Yankees, this gets annoying before you can say "Mr. Clutch," and hearing it year after year after year makes you start to resent the team.

In addition to that, I don't like the fact that they can spend what seems like an endless amount of money on their team each year. I don't fault them for doing so, because if I were a team owner and I could spend five times as much as other teams, I would gladly do it. At the same time, sitting here in Minnesota, it's tough to look at a team with a payroll that is well over $100 million higher than the Twins' and feel any sort of warm and fuzzy feelings towards them.

Meanwhile, I have always been a big fan of Alex Rodriguez. He appears to me to be a nice if sometimes boring person, and his baseball talent it extraordinary. He finally won the MVP this past season, and part of the reason why I've become such a fan of his is that, prior to his winning the award, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to fight the non-sense about him not being valuable because of his team's struggles.

I suppose his joining the New York Yankees is going to end that whole Alex Rodriguez MVP/crappy team debate for good, which is certainly a positive thing. Still, something bugs me about ARod joining the Yankees. I have been trying to pinpoint it ever since I heard that he was possibly going there and I'm still not 100% sure of the source.

I think it has to do partly with the Yankees' massive payroll and how that makes me feel as a fan of a "small-market" team. I feel like there is an inherent unfairness in the vastly different payrolls and that leaves a very sour taste in my mouth, regardless of who is at "fault."

It's nice to talk about payrolls not making a difference if a team is smart and well-run, but money does make a difference. Just because teams like the Twins and the A's have been able to win recently with small payrolls doesn't mean they wouldn't have been able to win even more with big payrolls. Playing the underdog is fun too, but at some point that gets old, especially when the reason you're the underdog is that your team can't spend $100 million more on its players.

More than that though, I think my displeasure with the news of ARod going to the Yankees has to do with the fact that I am almost certain he will end up moving to third base in order to placate Derek Jeter.

You see, I actually like Jeter as a player and as a person. He seems to be much like Rodriguez, in that he's well-spoken and smart. Plus, Jeter occasionally makes the headlines off the field, which makes him more interesting than ARod.

At the same time, the media attention and exaggerated hero worship that comes with Jeter has always bugged me. It is exactly the sort of thing that makes me dislike the Yankees at times, despite actually liking the team and the players.

When Tim McCarver waxes poetic about Jeter every post-season and every announcer and newspaper writer refers to his greatness and magical abilities, it bugs me. Every time someone in a discussion of who the best shortstop in baseball is sees that there isn't much statistical evidence to support Jeter and pulls the "count the rings" card, it bugs me.

In short, I think Jeter is an excellent player, a Hall of Fame level player. I also think he is overrated and that his faults as a player are ignored while his strengths are magnified to epic proportions.

And now Alex Rodriguez, a superior player to Jeter on both offense and defense, is going to have to take a backseat to the Yankee captain. Rodriguez, in the middle of a career that has a chance of being the greatest ever for a shortstop in the history of baseball, is very likely going to change positions, so that Jeter can continue to play shortstop for the Yankees.

Derek Jeter is one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball and Alex Rodriguez is one of the best. However, that doesn't really bother me. If the Yankees want to hurt their defense because they can't find it in their hearts to tell Jeter to move over a spot, that's their problem.

What does bug me is that Rodriguez is very likely going to have his days as a starting shortstop cut short, not because he joins a team with a better shortstop (impossible, unless they dig up Honus Wagner and someone signs him), but because he joins a team with Derek Jeter.

If this were high school and we were putting Jeter and ARod through tryouts, Rodriguez would be the starting shortstop and Jeter would be playing somewhere else. Those are the facts, as I see them, and no amount of "count the rings" type arguments will change my mind.

Jeter's defense is bad, Rodriguez's defense is good. It's as simple as that. Yet I have a bad feeling that, should ARod join the Yankees as is being reported, he will be playing somewhere other than his best position. And it's almost assumed, like Jeter moving for ARod isn't even an option.

The ESPN.com front page story on the trade over the weekend included a line about how "The Yankees have found their third baseman" and how Alex Rodriguez, the greatest shortstop of this generation, was "their solution at the hot corner."

That's a testament to the power of Jeter's overratedness, it's a testament to the power of being the captain of the Yankees, and it's a damn shame. When the greatest shortstop of the last 90 years has to change positions, the reason should be a whole lot better than "that's Jeter's spot."

Here's hoping Joe Torre is smart enough to see who the best shortstop on the team is in spring training, and brave enough to actually play him there.

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