NEW YORK – Life with Alex Rodriguez breaks down in strange ways for the New York Yankees.
There’s before and after games, and it’s not real pleasant.
“A litigious environment,” general manager Brian Cashman calls it.
Then there are the hours when A-Rod is on the field and at the plate. Between the lines, among the pinstripes, it’s one for all and all for one.
They co-exist in a setting that has few if any parallels in baseball history – a suspended star who is appealing his penalty and provoking his bosses on a near-daily basis.
Hardly a “Field of Dreams” scenario, far from “The Pride of the Yankees.” Instead, the most famous team in the sport is directly at odds with its own guy, who also happens to be the game’s highest-paid player.
Yet when Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster hit Rodriguez with a fastball at Fenway Park on Sunday night – after throwing one pitch behind A-Rod’s knees and two more inside – the New York bench and bullpen immediately emptied to defend him.
“I’m not sure how I would feel if I was on a different team,” said center fielder Brett Gardner, “but Alex is my teammate and obviously we’re glad to have him back in the room and glad to have him back on the field, helping us win ballgames. It got us fired up.”
Gardner was especially riled, barking angry words across the diamond toward Dempster.
At least that’s more than Rodriguez and Cashman are saying to each other.
“I’m not comfortable talking to Alex on this stuff because I feel we’re in a litigious environment. So I am not comfortable anymore talking to him,” Cashman said Sunday. “Hello. Goodbye. And that’s it. Because anything else, I don’t want to be distorted, to be quite honest.”
Not quite the ideal relationship between boss and employee.
But Rodriguez and the Yankees have never been typical. And their dealings with each other just get stranger and stranger, stirring memories of the George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin-Reggie Jackson battles of the 1970s.
A-Rod always has been about the biggest: startling statistics and record-setting contracts.
And now he is mounting a huge legal effort as he tries to overturn the 211-game drug suspension announced Aug. 5 by baseball commissioner Bud Selig for violations of the drug agreement and labor contract. The Yankees third baseman has four law firms and one investigations company working for him at the moment and has used six law firms in all since the start of the year.
In a story that gets more delicious by the day, his latest lawyer sparred with Major League Baseball on Monday, when the league asked for permission to make its drug case evidence public and Joseph Tacopina refused. A few hours later, a woman indicted last year for stalking Cashman asked for a court order to block Tacopina from representing A-Rod, claiming the firm had been doing work for her.
The Yankees didn’t even have a game, taking a day off before opening a homestand with a day-night doubleheader against Toronto.
Some players on opposing teams have criticized MLB’s drug agreement for allowing Rodriguez on the field while his discipline is being appealed to arbitrator Fredric Horowitz. The rules state penalties for a first offender who appeals are stayed until upheld by an arbitrator.
“How is he still playing? He obviously did something and he’s playing. I’m not sure that’s right,” Red Sox pitcher John Lackey told the Boston Globe last week. “It’s pretty evident he’s been doing stuff for a lot of years I’ve been facing him.”
After years of denials, Rodriguez admitted four years ago that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03.
Then Miami New Times reported in January that he had received PEDs from the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic, which sparked MLB’s investigation leading to suspensions of 14 players this summer.
Recovering from hip surgery in January, Rodriguez rejoined the Yankees on Aug. 5, hours after his discipline was announced. Since then he’s hit .319 with two homers and six RBIs, including a home run that sparked the Yankees to a 9-6 win at Boston on Sunday night.
When Dempster’s first pitch nearly hit A-Rod, Yankees manager Joe Girardi moved to the top step of the dugout. When the 3-0 pitch struck A-Rod’s left elbow pad and ricocheted off his back, Rodriguez glared at the mound and Girardi sprinted onto the field, screaming at plate umpire Brian O’Nora for not ejecting the pitcher and throwing a right hook a few inches in front of the umpire’s face. Girardi was ejected for his profane tirade.
“You can’t just start taking pot shots because you disagree with the way the system is set up,” Girardi said. “Whether I agree with everything that’s going on, you do not throw at people and you don’t take the law into your own hands. You don’t do that. We’re going to skip the judicial system? It’s `My Cousin Vinny.”’
Rodriguez never made a move toward Dempster during the dustup. Instead, he settled matters his own way a few innings later, homering 10 rows deep into the center-field seats leading off the sixth.
That long drive cut the Yankees’ deficit to 6-4 and started a four-run rally. He screamed as he rounded first base and pointed with both hands to the sky as he stepped on home plate.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was ultimate payback.”
While critical of Yankees management, Rodriguez praised Girardi effusively.
“His support for me has been incredible. I love the guy. He’s always been there for me,” Rodriguez said. “His reaction is another example of how much he supports me and all my teammates.”
New York owes Rodriguez $86 million from 2014-17, and A-Rod says he hopes to reconcile with Yankees team president Randy Levine and Cashman.
“I love this team. I love the fans of New York City,” he said. “It’s a very complicated situation but we’re doing the best we can.”
But right now, the reconciliation appears to be impossible. Cashman said Rodriguez told him last month he had no issues with the handling of his quadriceps injury, then had Dr. Michael Gross claim there was no injury.
“I felt like Selena Roberts a little bit there. Or Katie Couric or anybody else that I could come up with,” Cashman said, referring to reporters who heard Rodriguez’s drug denials prior to his 2009 admission. “That moment in time, I was lied to.”
But hours later, the Yankees were happy to receive Rodriguez’s performance on the field and angry he was hit by Dempster, who denied the smacking was intentional. They began Monday six games out in the AL wild-card race and need his bat if they are to make the playoffs for the 18th time in 19 years.
“Whether you like me or hate me, what’s wrong is wrong, and that was unprofessional and silly,” he said, referring to Dempster.
Long after the final out, Rodriguez was asked whether Dempster should be suspended.
“I’m the wrong guy to be asking about suspensions. Holy mackerel,” A-Rod said with a laugh. “I’ve got an attorney I can recommend.”