There’s nothing like America’s real popular culture to allow an AWOL story to go AWOL. Maybe it has already dawned on Terry McAuliffe and John Kerry that George W. Bush’s appearance at the opening of the Daytona 500 last Sunday stemmed the assaults on the president’s honor that that dynamic duo had unleashed. Pretty much the same thing happened in the 2000 campaign when Bush’s appearance on “Oprah” reversed the populist tide Al Gore had been riding since the Democratic convention. By reclaiming a place in the public eye at one of its popular focal points, a NASCAR race, Bush in effect changed the subject.
So did another story. Now all that’s left is for Bush to throw out the first ball at the New York Yankees’ home opener this spring to mark Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez’s debut in pinstripes. The indignities a president must suffer to remain a player himself! Bush will probably emerge okay, as long as he doesn’t emulate baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s style of leadership. It’s safe to say Bush won’t soon appoint Selig to run the Justice Department’s anti-trust division.
A few weeks ago we had “wardrobe malfunction” as a major addition to the cynic’s lexicon. Now we have Selig’s mealy-mouthed approval of the “trade” that sent the reigning American League MVP to the Yankees along with a $67 million bribe from Rodriguez’s former owner at the Texas Rangers. “I want to make it abundantly clear to all clubs that I will not allow cash transfers of this magnitude to become the norm,” Selig said by way of explaining why this time — and this time only, is that clear?! I mean, I really, really mean it this time, uh, really — he has been willing to make an exception. But just this once. Keep it up, Bud, and Steinbrenner might give you a raise.
So once again the rich get richer, even without the benefit of a new Bush tax cut. The Yankees are currently carrying so many all-stars some may not make the team or be allowed free parking at Yankee Stadium. But the rest of us are paying a steep price too.
Above all, we’re again reminded that New York is the most self-absorbed media capital in the annals of mass communications. The Rodriguez story even led the CBS radio news at the top of the hour yesterday afternoon. Selig said one argument in the trade’s favor was “the quality of the talent moving in both directions.” Can anyone even name the player Rodriguez was “traded” for, let alone cite a single story in the New York-dominated national media about Alfonso Soriano and his thoughts about being relegated to the junk heap of the American League?
The so-called trade, in other words, moved in only one direction. It’s as if the rest of the major leagues existed only so that New York might carry the championship team. Meanwhile, a lot of shots are being taken at Boston, whose Red Sox, despite signing some key free agents this off season, had failed to acquire Rodriguez despite his previous availability. The common (meaning New York-imposed) view is that the Red Sox are currently even bigger losers than what’s his name Soriano.
Fortunately, the flip-side of self-absorption is self-delusion. So the Yankees have acquired a star of stars, a statistical giant who year after year racks up hits, home runs, runs driven in, and a mightily impressive batting average. But take a look at the number of Rodriguez’s annual at-bats — well over 600. He’s no Barry Bonds, in short, someone whom opponents as a rule pitch around. Rodriguez gets his swings because pitchers pitch to him. And why would they do that? Because he has almost always played for losing teams. When you’re behind, every pitch is like batting practice. Both teams just want to get the damn game over with. His stats mean nothing. Did even one of his 47 home runs last season occur in a pressure situation?
He was an all-star shortstop. Now he’ll be playing at third base, a good 20 to 30 or even more feet closer to any line drive aimed at his head. Every single game he’s playing out position the presence of the real Yankee star fielding next to him will remind him why he’s no Derek Jeter. Oh, and good luck with the new second-baseman. By all accounts the spot will be filled by a volunteer summer intern. With every lost double-play Jeter will resent Rodriguez more. For a while he and second-baseman Soriano had had a good thing going.
Boston will be wise to say nothing and get on with the new season. In the off-season it acquired excellent pitching while the Yankees lost three starters. Its only mistake was to let clutch second-baseman Todd Walker get away. Suddenly the Yankees don’t appear all that smart. Walker signed with the Cubs, before it registered with the Yanks that by rights Walker should be theirs. This season it’s the ultra-spoiled rich’s turn to learn how unfair life can be.