By Josh Zembik, SI.com
New York baseball fans have seen better days. From Babe Ruth to Willie Mays to Derek Jeter and Johan Santana, and from the Shot Heard ‘Round the World to the Subway Series, the five boroughs have had a lot to cheer: 26 World Championships in the Bronx, another five at the Polo Grounds, one in Brooklyn, and two in Queens.
Of course, times have also been tougher, and the baseball has definitely been worse (right, Don Mattingly?). But with Sports Illustrated's revelations about Alex Rodriguez's positive steroids test, there are now twin palls over Gotham's baseball teams. Both Mets and Yankees fans have reason to cringe, reason to be defensive, and reason to feel something other than hope heading into 2009.
In Queens, the Mets have been bounced from postseason contention with September collapses two years in a row, finding new ways to lose each critical game. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, the Bombers' string of 13 consecutive postseason appearances ended not with a late season meltdown, but with a season-long thud. Done in by not enough pitching and not enough timely hitting, the Yankees were again relegated to the season of a second-class citizen: a measly 162 games.
For the Mets, the pieces have been there. Sure they've had bullpen issues, but for two years running, they have had the makings of a postseason team. They've had good arms, explosive young players like David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, and leads with 17 games to go each season. Still, they squandered a seven-game lead in 2007, and a 3.5-game lead in 2008, both times helping to hand the Philadelphia Phillies the NL East. They were tough times to be a Mets fan. The final two seasons at Shea Stadium saw the return of paper bags as a fashion accessory, and, for those old enough to remember them, the types of pangs usually associated with the Bobby Bonilla era. The Mets may not have been complete laughingstocks (mostly because, despite the collapses, they could still beat the pants off most teams in baseball), but they were certainly headed in that direction.
But in the Bronx, the problems the pinstripers faced weren't anything a few hundred million dollars couldn't fix. With some big salaries gone from the '08 payroll, the Yankees went on a shopping spree that brought in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, solidifying the rotation and beefing up the middle of the lineup. With just over a week to go before pitchers and catchers reported, everything looked good. The pieces were in place, and but for the distraction of Joe Torre and his "A-Fraud" tell-all, the Yankees' ship looked to be righted.
Then came the steroids story. Granted it was from 2003 when A-Rod was with the Rangers, and from a Pandora's box that was never meant to be opened, but those are certainly not reasons enough for the tabloids to ignore the juice. So along came "A-R*D," as a headline in the New York Post, and along came "Cut Him" as a plea from the New York Daily News.
Here's what the News' Bill Madden had to say:
"When the Yankees re-signed Alex Rodriguez in the fall of 2007, they envisioned the ‘clean' alternative to Barry Bonds - the knight in shining armor who would erase the stain of steroids from the all-time home run record, and they would bask in the glory of it with their brand.
"Now that A-Rod's pursuit looks as counterfeit as Bonds', they should do what's best for the organization: Cut him loose - no matter the cost.
"As difficult as it is to imagine eating $270 million, the Bombers will be making a statement, not just for the Yankee brand but for baseball as a whole.
"They will be applauded for it.
Whether he should be cut or not is another story completely, but the fact that people are even throwing out that possibility is a bad sign for Rodriguez and the Yankees. Just two seasons ago, A-Rod's 500th home run was lauded as everything that was right with baseball -- a player reaching a milestone the right way. Not only will his future home run plateaus be tainted by his 2003 test and his subsequent admission of guilt, but the Yankees are contractually obligated to recognize them.
That's right. The massive contract Rodriguez signed after opting out during the World Series includes $6 million bonuses for A-Rod when he reaches each of the four milestone career home run totals of Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714), Henry Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762). Do you think the Yankees would like to rethink that clause? Do you think they'll feel good about flashing "763" on the scoreboard at the New Yankee Stadium?
There are 103 other names on the list that brought A-Rod down, and there are at least that many major leaguers who did just what he did. None of them, however, will be in a spot where their team has to honor their exploits. None of them is as famous or well-known both inside and outside of baseball, and none of them has nine more years of a ten-year contract still ahead of him.
No, it's not easy being a Mets fan right now, but the disappointments of the last two seasons aren't anything a strong finish won't wash away. Yes, they have to do it soon, and they can't afford another heartbreaking collapse, but at least they can focus on the game on the diamond, on the players they field and the matchups they face. For the Yankees and their fans, in a moment's time, an offseason of hope may have turned into nine years of discontent.
Eating $270M worth it for the Yankees to finally ditch A-Rod [New York Daily News]