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Snake in the Apple

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There is an old fable about a man who, while walking on a cold day, came upon a snake lying on the side of the road, nearly frozen to death. Taking pity upon the creature, the man picked the snake up and placed it inside his coat and against his body, using his own warmth to bring the snake back to life. As soon as it recovered, the snake bit the man and began to slither away. Collapsing to his knees, mortally wounded, the man looked at the snake in disbelief.

“How could you do this to me?” he asked. “I saved your life. How could you be so ungrateful?”

“Mister,” said the snake, “you knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”

The New York Yankees have picked themselves up a snake. All bets are on now to see how long it will take for Alex Rodriguez to bite them.

If there’s one thing that’s become abundantly clear over this off-season, it’s that A-Rod is only out for A-Rod, and that his word means nothing. No matter which side of the “good for baseball/bad for baseball that the richest team has the best player” debate, there’s no denying A-Rod’s track record.

He got upset in Seattle because he wasn’t THE man, having to share the spotlight with Ken Griffey and Randy Johnson. He told Seattle he wanted to stay, then hit the free agent market. He claimed all that winter that he just wanted to play for a winner, but spurned offers from several winning ball clubs to sign with Texas for a record $252 million. The unofficial word in New York at that time he had declined the Mets’ offer because they had refused to cave in to A-Rod’s numerous marketing demands.

After three losing seasons in Texas – caused in great part by the lack of flexibility his own contract allowed the team – A-Rod talked publicly about wanting to fulfill his obligations to the Rangers… while behind the scenes, he had his agent Scott Boras begin talking to the Red Sox about a deal. After that deal fell apart because the union wouldn’t allow the restructuring of his albatross-like contract, A-Rod was made the captain of the Rangers and talked again about being committed to Texas. But as soon as the opportunity arose to head to the one team that can afford that ridiculous contract, A-Rod initiated talks with the Yankees.

Nothing in A-Rod’s history indicates that he is anything remotely resembling a team player. This guy is all about himself. He doesn’t like sharing the spotlight, he can’t handle losing (even when it’s his fault), he says one thing and does another. It’s not new in this deal – Rodriguez has behaved like a selfish, spoiled little brat. The man’s word isn’t worth even one of his 252 million dollars.

Now, he’s going to the biggest fishbowl in sports, where the rabid New York tabloid papers and sports talk radio will dissect everything he says and does. And when Derek Jeter makes an occasional error, or if the Yankees go on a five game losing streak, A-Rod will start to chafe and hint that maybe if he were at shortstop, it wouldn’t be happening. A-Rod will also have to share the spotlight in this town – with the other sports teams in the area, with his teammates Jeter and Giambi and Posada and Kevin Brown… heck, even with – especially with – his owner, George Steinbrenner. He’s not going to like that. And that makes him a time bomb waiting to go off.

This isn’t the first time the Yankees have picked up someone else’s snake. Roger Clemens’ whole career was full of ungrateful exits and actions that showed Roger was out for Roger. The Yankees took him in, loved him, protected him even while he was throwing bats at Mike Piazza, got him his World Series rings, and made him a darling whose exit from the field last fall in Florida was a great moment. This off-season, Roger – who’d said all through 2003 that he would be retiring at season’s end – un-retired and signed with Houston, to pitch alongside his friend Andy Pettite and to be closer to home.

Roger did what Roger does – looked out for himself. It was entirely within character. But the way that the Yankees and the New York sports fans reacted, it was as if they’d been bitten by the frozen snake they’d revived. They behaved as if they’d been uniquely betrayed, lied to by someone who’d never lied before. The Yankees and their fans behaved as if somehow their aura would make someone change his career-long personality and behavior.

So what do you think the reaction will be when A-Rod does what A-Rod is best at: looking out for himself? It might not happen this year. It might not happen next year. It may not even happen the year after that. But mark my words, it will happen: Alex Rodriguez will screw over the Yankees like he’s screwed over everyone else that he’s ever dealt with – the Mariners, the Mets, the Rangers, and the Red Sox.

And when he does, we’ll see more hand-wringing in New York, with fans and the team brass displaying incredulity that they were bitten by the snake that they picked up on the side of the road.

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