The crux of the fight over A-Rod's home run clause

A-Rod: 'I'm very happy'

Alex Rodriguez talks to Pedro Gomez after hitting his 660th home run to tie Willie Mays on the all-time list.

Is it about the man? Or is it about the milestone?

That is what the fight over Alex Rodriguez’s $6-million milestone clause is about to come down to, according to lawyers and baseball officials I surveyed about this case.

The Yankees will argue that A-Rod’s 660th home run isn’t marketable because the man who achieved it is a man whose legacy has been disgraced and whose achievements have all been tarnished.

A-Rod’s side won’t see it that way, for some reason. His lawyers will argue that the meaning of this moment means exactly what it always has meant. Shiny. Historic. And rarified.

It’s a fascinating case. And it’s made all the more fascinating by the complexities of the man who has inspired it.

The milestone clause in A-Rod’s contract is very carefully worded, say baseball officials familiar with it. It appears to give the Yankees the sole right to decide whether or not any of their favorite history maker’s feats are “marketable.”

If they say it is, the clause specifically delineates what happens next. For Rodriguez to collect his 6 million bucks, he would have to transfer all the marketing rights to his team so that the Yankees would then be able to keep all the money they would theoretically rake in.

Bear in mind, by the way, that there is no clause like this in any other contract in baseball. And there never will be, either, because side deals like these are now banned in all future contracts. But this one got grandfathered in.

Regardless, if the Yankees decide this feat – or any future magic numbers – doesn’t fit their definition of marketable, that’s when the fighting starts. And barring some sort of unforeseen meeting in the middle, that’s what’s about to happen any minute now.

But once the Yankees make their move, A-Rod’s side then has to file a grievance. And to win it, he has to prove the Yankees didn’t act “in good faith” when they failed to get all misty-eyed over historic No. 660 and declared there was nothing marketable about it.

So then, of course, the case comes down to -- well, guess who?

To Alex Rodriguez, naturally, in all his complicated glory.

According to the attorneys, the Yankees would then have to show why this moment can’t possibly be marketable. Which means – heh, heh, you know what it means – that they have to show why the man responsible for that moment is as unmarketable as Crystal Pepsi.

So that ought to be fun, huh? Too bad that hearing won’t be public. It surely would be must-see TV.

But A-Rod’s case is riveting, too. It’s likely to come down to his side proving that this was never about him. It’s about what these numbers have always meant in the history of American sports.

So the arbitrators might need to keep a box of tissues handy, because 660 is about Willie and 714 is – holy Bambino – The Babe. Then there’s 755 and all that Hammerin’ Hank means in our lives and culture. And who among us doesn’t get chills when we think of 762 and good old Barry Bonds? (Wait. Don’t answer that.)

Baseball’s home run records have long been the most famous and most romantic numbers in sports. And that’s what Alex Rodriguez’s side has to remind us. They’re bigger than any one man, no matter how tainted he may be.

Pretty darned interesting, right? It’s a debate so compelling, it should really be hosted by a panel of sports-talk radio hosts.

Unfortunately, for A-Rod, though, the Yankees almost certainly would call him to testify if this case actually reached the arbitrators. And the questions might get, um, messy.

Let’s just say we think we’re on safe ground to predict his day on the stand, if it comes to that, won’t feel quite as uplifting as his game-winning, pinch-hit homer in Fenway on a Friday night he’ll never forget.

But no matter how this turns out, there’s one thing you have to admit. It’s vintage Alex Rodriguez. Isn’t it?

He’s always been that place where disgrace and history collide. So why should No. 660 be any different?