2004-02-06 / Sports

Inside Pitch

By Bryan Hoch
Inside Pitch By Bryan Hoch

Pudge Rodriguez (right) may not be celebrating much with the Detroit Tigers this year. (AP/J. Pat Carter).Pudge Rodriguez (right) may not be celebrating much with the Detroit Tigers this year. (AP/J. Pat Carter).

Pudge Rodriguez has his cash, to the tune of $40 million over the next four years. But what’s the cost of losing – and losing miserably – in life’s grand scheme?

The last time we saw Rodriguez, he was standing alongside President Bush and Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon at the White House, grinning from ear to ear as the team celebrated their World Series victory over the Yankees.

Celebratory parades, lavish Miami parties, lucrative autograph signings and endorsement deals: these are events bestowed upon a winner. Good news for promoters: Rodriguez may suddenly be much more available for your bash, as he doesn’t figure to have many of these types of engagements on his calendar for the next few years.

Rodriguez seemed to be a perfect fit in Miami, at least after the Marlins started to gel around his veteran presence and the way he handled young pitchers like 21-year-old World Series MVP Josh Beckett. He keeps a large mansion in South Florida, a multi-million dollar estate that features, among other things, a life-size statue of himself.

What’s the bottom line? Comfort. Now, we can’t read Rodriguez’s thoughts, but with all that going for him in the Sunshine State, there’s only one reason he could possibly have wanted to join the 119-loss Motown Misery.

More accurately, there were 40 million reasons.

"Everybody is saying I’m going from a World Series team to a losing team, but I don’t think of the Tigers as a losing team," Rodriguez said. "I think the Tigers just had a bad season."

Or, rather, a troubling trend of them; Detroit hasn’t had a winning season since 1993, and with a staff of inexperienced pitchers and re-tread veterans (Rodriguez excepted) clogging the lineup in spacious Comerica Park, things don’t figure to get much better.

You can’t blame Rodriguez for taking the money and running; after all, he has mouths to feed, Porsches to buy and marble statues to commission. But what’s really the value of sacrificing your own personal comfort?

Ask Alex Rodriguez, who blew off any hope of contending to take $252 million from the Texas Rangers and has since tried to engineer a daring escape that would have made Har rison Ford’s character in The Fugi tive proud; ask unsigned free-agent Greg Mad dux, who open ly said he’d have loved to return to the Braves but couldn’t fit into the budget; ask outfielder J.D. Drew, who sat out an entire season at the beginning of his career because the Phillies wouldn’t fork over a truckload of cash.

The common bond? All of the aforementioned, including Rodriguez, are clients of super-agent Scott Boras, the "shark" (according to one GM) who’ll get you all the cash you desire, but can’t necessarily take care of that little intangible called happiness.

"I have never liked Scott Boras, nor anything he’s done," Internet-friendly pitcher Curt Schilling posted recently on a Red Sox message board. "He represents a lot of players I respect and love to watch play, but I don’t think he does the game any service in any way."

Rodriguez maintains that it’s going to be "completely different" this year for the Tigers, and he may be right. But even if Pudge is produces MVP-caliber numbers, his presence alone can’t possibly be worth any more than 15 to 20 victories, meaning that losing and frustration is a certainty in Detroit’s forecast.

As the Tigers scuffle to escape last place, Rodriguez will have ample opportunity to contemplate the decisions his representation has made for him; the most glaring error being the rejection Florida’s new contract offer.

Rodriguez is smiling now, a few weeks away from his return to a playing field in Florida; this time, as a crouching Tiger in Detroit’s Lakeland training facility.

But when the first pitches are thrown and the losing begins, we’ll wager that Rodriguez – like Schilling – will forge his own rock-solid opinion of Boras’ tactics soon enough.

95 Mike Richter’s memorable career with the Rangers was celebrated this week, as the longtime Blueshirts goaltender’s No. 35 was raised to the rafters at Madison Square Garden.

Over his 14 seasons with the team, Richter arguably was the largest part of the Rangers – the starting goaltender on the 1994 Stanley Cup champions, he permanently etched his name in Rangers and NHL lore. A team record 301 wins later, Richter’s numeral joined those of Ed Giacomin (No. 1) and Rod Gilbert (No. 7) as the only digits permanently stored away in the team’s history – teammates Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch will have their day soon enough.

But Richter’s story is a sad one, as well. At age 37, Richter certainly isn’t a spring chicken, but it’s certainly conceivable that he could still have been performing this season instead of bowing out. Multiple concussions and reconstructive surgeries on both of his knees paved the way for an early exit from the NHL. Even so, Richter remembers the Rangers’ glory days over the tough times, the team’s current struggles included.

"It’s amazing," Richter said at a Tuesday press conference. "I don’t know if it’s because of the concussions, but my memories are just ones of good times. 85 There’s just these overwhelming feelings of doing well."

95 Go figure: Tivo officials have noted that Janet Jackson’s peep show escapade at the Super Bowl halftime show was the most-reviewed TV moment int he gadget’s brief history.

Contact: bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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