Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Monday, August 19, 2013
Time to take one for the team, A-Rod

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

Alex Rodriguez's latest and greatest attorney, Joe Tacopina, fell for the hidden-ball trick Monday, though it was Matt Lauer, not Evan Longoria, who applied the tag. The "Today" host suddenly handed Tacopina a confidentiality waiver to sign, an invitation from baseball to freely discuss the performance-enhancing drug evidence against A-Rod, and the lawyer acted as if he'd just been served a subpoena.

The exchange made for good TV, just not as good as the high drama staged the previous night in Fenway Park, where the New York Yankees defended Rodriguez as if he were Don Zimmer, beloved curmudgeon, thrown to the dirt by Pedro Martinez, a much younger man.

After A-Rod was intentionally nailed by Boston Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster, Yankees manager Joe Girardi all but decked the plate umpire. This was the same Joe Girardi who, as a Yankees catcher in 1999, allowed a Seattle pitcher named Frankie Rodriguez to pummel him without a response because, he said, "I never punched anyone in my life."

Teammates roared out of Fenway's third-base dugout Sunday night, with a let-me-at-'em Brett Gardner making like Tanner Boyle from "The Bad News Bears." Rodriguez expressed his undying love for the Yankees who rallied around him. He called Girardi's meltdown "amazing," and described the teammates who told him to claim revenge with the very long ball he would hit as being "as pissed as I was."

They were all one big, happy dysfunctional family until Tacopina resumed the assault on MLB and the Yankees on Monday and until a source inside A-Rod's camp told ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand that the third baseman plans to sue team doctor Chris Ahmad for allegedly misdiagnosing the hip injury last fall that kept A-Rod from hitting, but not from hitting on women in the stands.

Ahmad now faces the kind of legal action that scared Brian Cashman -- who doesn't scare easily -- into a hi-and-goodbye relationship with Rodriguez, who keeps escalating just about the ugliest employer-athlete fight since George Steinbrenner lost a unanimous decision to Dave Winfield over Howie Spira.

Some have likened this surreal conflict to the Steinbrenner/Reggie Jackson/Billy Martin madness of the distant past, but two officials who have done extensive business with the Yankees and who easily recall the Bronx Zoo scene say no legitimate comparison can be made.

"The dislike here between Alex and the front office is much, much worse," said one.

"This isn't Reggie at Studio 54, or not bunting when told, or talking about 'the magnitude of me' or 'the straw that stirs the drink,'" the other said. "This is a fight that you just get out of the way of, a fight where you need to hide behind something. But I do think if the old man [Steinbrenner] were still around, he'd release Alex because the $90 million hit on the contract is worth it given the damage to the $5 billion brand."

Steinbrenner's sons aren't going to release Rodriguez, at least not until they see how much money they'll save from the 211-game ban over Biogenesis that A-Rod is appealing. So the parties are stuck with each other for the rest of the season, at least a 39-game stretch that Rodriguez can and should control for the benefit of the people who had his back in Fenway Park.

It's time for A-Rod to take his attack-dog attorney, Tacopina, off the air and tell him to stand down. Rodriguez is the boss in that relationship, even if it seems like he's not. He should cancel Tacopina's media engagements until the end of the season, playoffs or no playoffs, and then turn him loose again if he wants before the arbitration hearing.

Brett Gardner
Brett Gardner, among other Yankees, stood up for Alex Rodriguez on Sunday. A-Rod can show his appreciation by eliminating the legal distractions.

Rodriguez doesn't owe this to Cashman, even if the general manager once stared down Joe Torre and Derek Jeter for not showing enough love for A-Rod. Rodriguez doesn't owe this to Randy Levine, even if the team president was the one who pushed hardest to give him the 10-year, $275 million deal after the infamous opt-out in 2007.

A-Rod owes this to Girardi and his teammates -- the people trying desperately to avoid becoming only the second Yankees team since the 1994 players strike to miss the playoffs.

The people Rodriguez swears he cares deeply about.

A-Rod can still act the way Jerry Tarkanian did when the NCAA threw everything it had at him. A-Rod can still pursue his appeal, and his lawsuits, and his grievance with the union over his medical care. But he can pursue them without his legal team launching new and explosive allegations in The New York Times or anywhere else, blowing up a must-have series with the first-place Red Sox.

Yes, the Yankees somehow managed to win that series, and, yes, Rodriguez somehow managed to play at a high level. A-Rod's ability to concentrate at the plate while engaged in a bloody war with his elders was something you could almost admire. Almost.

Rodriguez remains the bad guy in this story, the guy baseball officials said used testosterone and HGH after forever swearing off PEDs during his 2009 confession of earlier use. Rodriguez remains the guy who won't answer the most relevant (by far) question in this case: Did you or did you not use those PEDs?

Tacopina wouldn't answer that question Monday, yet swore he wouldn't even advise Rodriguez to settle for a one-inning ban based on the evidence he has seen. Asked by Lauer about an ESPN "Outside the Lines" report that A-Rod had wired money to an attorney representing Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, Tacopina ultimately acknowledged that "there was a relationship obviously" between his client and Bosch, marking the first time Camp A-Rod publicly admitted the connection. Tacopina would tell CNN that his client had only a "consulting relationship" with Biogenesis.

But this isn't the principal reason Rodriguez should hit the mute button on his ever-widening circle of aides. No matter what went down in Boston, the everyday stress of this case will surely catch up to the Yankees at some point, costing them their outside chance at a wild card.

So Rodriguez should order the volume lowered for them. He should consider Cashman's quote about having "24 guys in [the clubhouse] that are professional and doing everything that they possibly can to try to win games." He should reward Girardi for his staggering loyalty, and he should honor the last weeks of Mariano Rivera's dignified career.

Does Rodriguez truly care about Joe and Mo? Does he even realize that a Rivera on truth serum would probably plead with him to stop urinating all over his farewell?

If he continues to feed Joe Tacopina to Matt Lauer and "Mike & Mike" and other shows, we'll know the answer. Now that 24 Yankees and a manager went to bat for him in a hostile environment, Alex Rodriguez needs to take one for the team.