Once upon a time, Mrs. O'Leary left a lantern too close to her cow, five burglars broke into a Watergate office, and Aaron Boone decided to play a little pickup basketball. History, Voltaire observed, is little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes. Over the coming years the exact details are to be revealed as to how the misfortune of Boone, the New York Yankees third baseman who blew out his left knee in a Jan. 16 hoops dalliance, will alter baseball history, especially the raging neo-Peloponnesian War between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. But altered it shall be.
When Boone went down, the Yankees needed a third baseman, and when the Yankees needed a third baseman, Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez reconsidered his objection to playing third base. And when Rodriguez reconsidered, the Yankees succeeded in less than 72 hours where the Red Sox had failed for five constipated weeks earlier this winter, swinging an unprecedented trade over the weekend for a reigning MVP who also is the game's best all-around player.
Boone, mind you, is the same chap who four months ago hit the 11th-inning home run that ended Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and Boston's season. Now this A-Rod business. In the annals of New England oral history he will forever be referred to as Aaron Bleeping Boone. "I only wish to God," one Red Sox official bemoaned after the trade, "that Aaron Boone never picked up a basketball."
With Rodriguez, the Yankees become the Beatles of baseball, such is their talent and global star power. they open camp this week with 17 All-Stars, including seven regulars who have won an MVP award or finished among the top seven in the voting, and four of the eight players in baseball history who signed a contract worth more than $100 million ( Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Kevin Brown). The teams chasing this club can only hope that the mass of New York's stars is so great that it collapses inward like a black hole.
How, for instance, will Rodriguez, 28, and Jeter, 29, coexist? Both are signed through 2009 with no-trade clauses; the superior defender of the two, Rodriguez, will play out of position; and their friendship has been strained since A-Rod's critical comments about Jeter in an '01 magazine interview. "Everybody knows their best lineup would be A-Rod at short and Jeter at second," one American League manager says, "but it won't happen because it's Jeter's team."
As of Sunday night Rodriguez had not spoken to Jeter about the trade, but as for deferring to the Yankees shortstop and moving to third base, A-Rod says, "I don't see it as a big deal at all. I look at it as a new challenge. I won two Gold Gloves and an MVP at shortstop. I thought I achieved just about everything personally at shortstop. Now it's time to win. I've always thought of myself as a team player. Playing third base is the ultimate team move."
Never before have George Steinbrenner's Yankees been more befitting of Fitzgerald's take on the very rich: "They are different from you and me." With the Rodriguez trade the other 29 franchises look on New York with further contempt not only because it makes the Yankees richer, but also because they were lucky. A-Rod fell into their lap less than a week before spring training started, and they were able to negotiate such a relatively small financial obligation to Rodriguez ($16 million annual average) that they will pay him less than Jeter and Giambi, less than what the Red Sox will pay Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez, and less than what the Houston Astros pay 35-year-old first baseman Jeff Bagwell.
What's more, Rodriguez will add only $2.4 million to New York's 2004 payroll as it stood before Boone played basketball. While the Yankees will pay Rodriguez $15 million this year, they got off the hook for the combined $12.6 million they would have owed Boone ($5 million, assuming he gets only termination pay for violating his contract's no-basketball clause); failed third base prospect Drew Henson ($2.2 million), who quit to pursue an NFL career; and second baseman Alfonso Soriano ($5.4 million), who was sent to Texas with a minor leaguer to be named in tire Rodriguez deal. The Rangers are to choose from a list of five prospects before March 31.
Texas agreed to pay $67 million of the $179 million (over seven years) left on Rodriguez's original record-busting $252 million, 10-year contract. The trade still lightened the Rangers' long-term obligations by about $120 million (including interest), freeing them to save or spend the savings as they rebuild what has been a last-place team for four years running. For instance, Texas immediately worked to finalize a five-year extension for third baseman Hank Blalock, a commitment that one team source said would not have been possible without the A-Rod deal.
The Rangers' $67 million sweetener did, however, give some pause to commissioner Bud Selig, who, according to one major league source, heard complaints from owners such as the Baltimore Orioles' Peter Angelos. Selig had pushed hard to accommodate Rodriguez's trade to Boston so the game's best player could get to a competitive, high-visibility franchise. He fretted more about Rodriguez as a Yankee, one source in the commissioner's office said, because New York's payroll of about $190 million figures to be about $70 million ahead of the rest of the field, led by Boston. Selig, though, approved the trade on Monday after almost three days of study.