IS A-ROD THE RANGERS' ANCHOR ... OR AN ANCHOR AROUND THEIR NECKS?
It was a relatively quiet day at the Writers' Bloc -- no canibalistic frenzy fueled by 'roid rage, like Monday's steroid debate. Today, eight members of the group calmly considered A-Rod's AL MVP selection (yeah, it was as if the group overdosed on sedatives) ... and found it a mini-disgrace, for the most part.
Well, maybe they really weren't all that calm. Jim Caple's lead column pretty much calls A-Rod "the Anti-MVP," and that's about when the piling-on really got started.
Take the money, but not the MVP
By Jim Caple
The Writers' Bloc
I rarely complain about player salaries. For one thing, it's not my money, and more importantly, once it's transferred to the athletes' secret Swiss bank accounts, it's not the owners' money, either. I favor anything that takes money away from owners, who are some of the most vile creatures this side of the marketing people who coined the term, "Pet parents."
That said, Alex Rodriguez's contract bothered me. No, not the $252 million. God knows, I not only would have taken the cash, too, I would have put it into a money bin like Scrooge McDuck so I could dive into it every morning like a porpoise, burrowing through it like a gopher, tossing it up and letting it hit me in the head.
No, what got me were the incentive clauses, those handsome bonuses for finishing even as a distant also-ran in the MVP vote. Asking for bonus money on top of that kind of salary was right up there with former Wall Street Stock Exchange chief Dick Grasso insisting on his $188 million package. For instance, A-Rod gets $50,000 for finishing ninth in the MVP vote, which is as ridiculous as making Pat Buchanan the Secretary of State for finishing fourth in the presidential vote.
|Alex Rodriguez's big bat is neutralized by that big contract.|
The $50,000 bonus, however, is walking-around money compared to the bonus he earned Monday when he won the MVP: $500,000. A half-million dollars. That's more than nine of his teammates made all season. And if he wins again, he gets $1 million.
As a BBWAA member, I hope he remembers to tip.
A-Rod's award reignited a debate nearly as old as the hot dogs sold at Yankee Stadium. Namely, should a player from a losing team win the MVP?
The answer is yes. After all, a player has no control over who his teammates are.
Except, of course, in A-Rod's case.
He had his choice of teammates three years ago, but instead he signed with the last-place Rangers, knowing full well -- or at least he should have known -- that they didn't have anywhere near the pitching necessary to win a championship.
Worse, his contract limits the teammates he can have now. It's not the current annual salary so much as the overall amount that weighs down the team as if Mo Vaughn was sitting on an anchor. The Rangers still owe A-Rod nearly $190 million. That would be one thing for the Yankees; it's entirely different for the Rangers.
|Meet the Bloc
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From Page 2: Jim Caple, Patrick Hruby, Eric Neel, David Schoenfield, Dan Shanoff, Ralph Wiley.
From ESPN The Magazine: Eric Adelson, Shaun Assael, Luke Cyphers, Tom Friend, Peter Keating, Tim Keown, Steve Wulf.
Other hired guns: Gerri Hirshey, Chuck Hirshberg, Robert Lipsyte.
To save some money, Texas let Pudge Rodriguez go last year and watched the catcher sign with the Marlins and lead them to a world championship, while the Rangers finished last for the fourth consecutive season. In other words, A-Rod and his contract were more valuable to the Marlins than to the Rangers.
It's not likely to get much better next season, either. Even A-Rod acknowledged this year that he would be willing to be traded if that could help the team down the road. Call me crazy, but how valuable can a player really be if his team is still so bad that he talks about not being happy with the club's losing ways and being open to a trade if it doesn't improve soon?
Don't get me wrong. I fully appreciate A-Rod. He's a great player, the best in the American League, no question about it. He's polite and thoughtful, plays hard and never embarrasses himself, his team or his profession. He should have been the MVP in 1996.
But he wasn't this season. The numbers on his baseball card weren't the only ones that mattered.
The Bloc responds:
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Take the money ...
Incentive clauses fuel the engines of American life. What real man doesn't do housework for sex? Blaming A-Rod for his salary is like blaming the A students for the dopes at the bottom of the curve.
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Take the money ...
Jim, why so much hate? When A-Rod signed with the Rangers, they had won three division titles in the previous five seasons, so he certainly couldn't have expected Texas to remain a perennial last-place team. Also, subtract A-Rod's $22 million salary, and the Rangers still had a higher payroll than the Oakland A's, who made the playoffs -- and just $2 million less than Florida Marlins.
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Front-office incompetence
Let's see, the guys who have finished ninth in MVP voting this decade are: Carlos Beltran, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez (twice), Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra. If you really think any of these players bears the same relationship to baseball that Pat Buchanan does to politics, I guess you're a lot older than I thought and lived in Palm Beach in 2000.
As to whom A-Rod left and whom he signed with, what, did somebody lift your copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia? At the time Rodriguez left the Mariners, they had developed a reputation as an underachieving team of Hall of Famers. From 1998 to 2000, Seattle won 246 games and made the wild card once. Texas won 254 games and two divisional titles. And far from going to a franchise where he would be the only star, A-Rod joined a club where other players had just won three MVP awards (Pudge in '99, Juan Gone in '96 and '98).
About all that "control" A-Rod has had over his teammates: Tom Hicks spent money like a drunken sailor before, during and after signing Rodriguez. In 1997, Rangers' salaries shot up 40 percent, from $35.9 million to $50.1 million. In 1999, they jumped another 49 percent, from $54.7 million to $81.3 million, which meant Texas had the second-highest payroll in baseball two years before A-Rod arrived. And once he got there, was Alex Rodriguez really responsible for giving $7.5 million to Kenny Rogers or $9.2 million to Carl Everett or $7 million to Rusty Greer or $13 million to Chan Ho Park? Picking out elements of A-Rod's contract that you don't like completely misses the point that Texas would have an above-average payroll without counting Rodriguez's salary at all!
The Rangers paid $3.3 million this year to Jay Powell, $2.5 million to Todd Van Poppel and $3.4 million to an injured Jeff Zimmerman. If you ask me, that's quite enough damage. The incompetence of the Texas front office killed their team's chances on the field. Good thing the voters didn't let it kill A-Rod's chance to be recognized as the best player in the league.
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: MVP needs off-field value ...
How about this scenario helping create a new definition for "most valuable":
Putting his money where his mouth is, A-Rod takes a $10 mil pay cut, so now he's more accessible to more budget-conscious contenders (not just the Red Sox and Yankees).
With that extra money, A-Rod's new team inks a solid starter and quality reliever. All three new acquisitions lead the team to the World Series, which
would have been impossible solely with A-Rod -- but now only possible thanks to A-Rod.
The lesson, echoing Jim: On-field value is only part of the MVP equation. Off-field value (read: payroll impact) should be included in award metrics.
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Leave the money out of it
There's no answer to this, which is why it makes good conversation. But I'm torn -- I don't like it when the media imbue someone with inflated value simply because his team wins (Kirk Gibson and his 76 RBIs), but I'm equally uncomfortable giving an MVP Award to a player on a last-place team.
But I'm not torn on one aspect of this argument: Money has no place in the discussion.
We're already too hung up on athletes' salaries, and if something as contrived as "payroll impact" becomes a viable consideration for choosing an MVP, then well ... screw it, I say. Forget the whole deal. Lock yourself in a room with a bag of Cheetos and a computer game and see -- once and for all -- whether the '65 Dodgers can take the '75 Reds. I hear that Bench can really rake, but you might want to find out what he's doing with his meal money before you vote on the Series MVP.
"On-field value" is only PART of the equation? Shake yourself, man.
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Something else A-Rod is missing
You know, maybe it's just the opposite. Maybe money is the ONLY thing that ought to matter in this discussion. Why not let the market determine who's the most valuable player? Instead of baseball writers, let a bunch of certified public accountants go over the financials of every superstar -- not just his salary, but endorsements, investments and gratuities received from rich people for showing up at their parties and pretending to be their friends. In lieu of a trophy, the winner gets a substantial cash bonus.
Because, let's face it, we fans, or reporters, aren't really in a position to determine the most valuable player in any meaningful way. Too much of what makes a player valuable (in the non-financial sense) happens in the dugout or behind closed doors. Statistics certainly don't tell the story, and Kirk Gibson is a perfect example of why. Remember, that was the year he limped off the bench and hit perhaps the most exciting home run in World Series history. It was Gibson, too, who was said to have completely changed the tenor of the Dodgers clubhouse that year by reading his 'mates the riot act after some stupid practical joke. And BTW, Gibson's main competition that year was ... the ever-valuable Darryl Strawberry.
What makes a guy valuable to his team, especially if he has a big contract, is LEADERSHIP. Can he pick up a teammate who has just made an error? Can he snap his team out of midseason malaise? Can he keep them focused when there are media-driven distractions? And, most important, can he (as the sports cliché goes) carry the team on his back when necessary?
A-Rod doesn't deserve the MVP, not because he makes so much money, but because his season, indeed his career, has answered none of the above questions.
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Voodoo economics
The A-Rod "package" is a swell working model of baseball's voodoo economics. And you're right, Jim -- its evil and its genius lie in the squirming mass of incentives only agents and craven owners can conjure.
But beneath all the tedious whining by failing franchises, there's another equation at work: For every extravagant Player Incentive there is an equal and opposite Fan Deterrent. With few players signing anything unless in the presence of a posse from Sothebys, should a moony-eyed kid hang out in the parking lot waiting for his or her idol? (Nah, they're probably trying to cop some memorabilia merch on eBay -- to resell it). Should anyone lay down the price of a family meal at the Olive Garden to go watch a multimillionaire (even a nice, talented one) paid the price of a Hummer (unloaded) to come in fourth? From the increasingly pricey bleachers, all that player bling winks like cheesy zircon.
Bottom line: Contracts like A-Rod's with their fat, absurdist clauses have clinched baseball's title as the Sport of Cynics. The only economic side benefit? Every June and October bring a bumper crop of lavish, overwrought books about America's Game. Any sentimental fool looking for the heart of baseball will find it pressed between hard covers on Amazon.com, a flyball trapped in amber.
Caple's final word
When I was voting on the MVP Award, it used to really irritate me that we had to consider a player's "value'" just because someone long ago had named the award the Most Valuable Player instead of the Player of the Year.
Picking the Player of the Year would be so much easier. It would have been A-Rod this year and A-Rod the year before that and probably A-Rod after that.
But it's not the Player of the Year, it's the MVP. And I've come to realize: That's the beauty of the award. It's why we argue about it every year. It's why people care about it and know who wins it, unlike the major award in other sports. Because value is such an elusive and difficult thing to define it inspires debate.
Look, I don't like bringing money into this, either, and I don't think we should if we can at all avoid it. I can't define an MVP for you, but I know that someone who has the pick of any team he wants and still chooses a
last-place team and says that he was impressed that the owner picked up his luggage at the airport lacks a certain quality.
I'm not anti-Alex. A-Rod can be eligible for the MVP just as soon as he lifts his team from where it was before he got there and where it has been almost every single day since he's been there -- last place.
And I want all the Yankees fans who rip me on a daily basis for never writing anything good about their team to take note: I think Jorge Posada should have won.