Commentary

A-Rod big as Babe in Yanks-Sox lore

When it comes to transformative figures in the rivalry, few can match Rodriguez

Updated: August 21, 2013, 4:10 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

Everything is always bigger with Alex Rodriguez. In 1993, when he was MLB's No. 1 overall draft pick out of Miami's Westminster High, some scouts thought he owned the most potential of anyone they'd seen in the history of the game.

He arrived in the big leagues by 18. By 20, he was second in the AL MVP voting. By 21, he was making a million dollars a year.

By the time he was 25, he had the largest contract in American sports history, a 10-year, $252 million deal. At 28, he would force his way out of Texas and agree to take less money to try to break the Babe's curse in Boston. But instead he ended up a Yankee, and along the way he picked up a $275 million contract, a ring, a couple of PED scandals and more drama than Charlie Sheen.

Today, at 38, he is playing while appealing a 211-game suspension for his alleged violation of baseball's drug policy. And here he is this weekend, back in Boston as the biggest figure in the epic rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox since George Herman Ruth.

[+] EnlargeAROD/Varitek
J Rogash/Getty ImagesJason Varitek shoving Alex Rodriguez was a turning point in the Red Sox's 2004 season.

Beginning on Feb. 16, 2004, the day the Yankees outmaneuvered the Red Sox for Rodriguez, the rivalry has been all about A-Rod -- from both sides of the struggle.

The only incident separating "The Curse of A-Rod" from being as much a part of the sport's vernacular as "The Curse of the Bambino," is Rodriguez's unbelievable 2009 World Series run, when he seemingly hit a game-changing homer every night out.

If not for that stretch of timely white-hot hitting, the Yankees would be on ice -- staring at a dozen years without a title. As for the Red Sox? They promptly reversed their decades-long curse almost immediately after the players' association vetoed their A-Rod deal with Texas because, of all things, Rodriguez was deducting too much money from his record contract. Imagine that.

Add in A-Rod's ill-timed opt-out during the Sox's 2007 World Series victory, and Rodriguez would be looked upon as the man who changed the direction of two franchises.

And it all started less than half a year after the trade, in July of 2004. There and then, Rodriguez -- for many -- sparked the Red Sox's curse-breaking run to a long-awaited title.

In Fenway, after being hit in the back by a Bronson Arroyo fastball, Rodriguez glared out and swore at the Boston righty -- twice. Down the first-base line, an intervening Jason Varitek pushed his catcher's mitt into Rodriguez's face, causing both benches to empty. After the skirmish, addressing the struggling A-Rod, Varitek famously shot off that the Red Sox don't throw "at .260 hitters."

Whatever the case, the Red Sox, as the tale goes, were an inspired team following that fray at Fenway -- and would go on to win that Saturday afternoon and then 46 of their final 66 games.

By October of that year, the two teams were destined to meet for a spot in the World Series.

In that American League Championship Series for the ages, in helping the Bombers race out to a commanding 3-0 cushion, Rodriguez -- who had a 1.213 OPS in the previous round -- was 6-for-14 with a homer, two doubles, three RBIs and seven runs scored. Sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield in the No. 2 hole, A-Rod looked as if he were going to lead the Yankees back to another World Series.

And then The Slap happened, and nothing was the same. Rodriguez's attempt to knock the ball out of Arroyo's glove during a routine tag out in Game 6 changed the balance of power in an instant. The Yankees would blow the series in historic fashion. The Red Sox would go on to their first crown since 1918. And Rodriguez, with one waive of the hand, kicked off an offseason of incessant A-Rod mocking.

Then-Red Sox ace Curt Schilling, who reportedly tried to recruit Rodriguez to Boston the previous winter, later said Jeter would have too much character to try what he termed a "junior high school" slap. And Trot Nixon called Rodriguez a "clown."

By June of 2007, the mocking reached new heights in Boston. After a photo of A-Rod, who was married at the time, and a buxom blonde leaving a Toronto strip club was featured on the front page of the New York Post, the Fenway faithful donned masks to make fun of the incident.

Later that year, while the Red Sox were winning their second ring, Rodriguez attempted to overshadow the Fall Classic by opting out of his record contract in the middle of Game 4. And despite Yankees GM Brian Cashman publicly saying the Yankees would not take him back, the team eventually did.

In 2009, Rodriguez would go on to admit PED use, but managed to finish that year with his magical October.

Now, nearly a decade since the trade, there is always the "What if?" with A-Rod and the Red Sox. What if the players' association had allowed him to sign with Boston and he had been the main man in breaking the curse?

Instead, on Friday he enters Fenway, at 38, as the biggest character the rivalry has seen since "No, No Nanette" went into production. No one knows what the next crazy scene will be, but the easy money is that A-Rod will be in the middle of it.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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