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Will A-Rod be back? And, who cares?

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Adding to the mystery of whether or not A-Rod will be back in the "Sunday Night" booth next year is the news that his partner for the past four years, play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian, has already opted out.

Dick
Flavin

Are you one of those people who lies awake nights wondering if Alex Rodriguez will be back next year as the analyst on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball?"

Not me.

I'm still trying to figure out how he managed to land the gig in the first place.

He is one of the most accomplished players in baseball history, having accumulated over the length of his career 696 home runs, 2086 RBI, and three MVP awards. Oh, and by the way, he is also the most infamous cheater in baseball history; he sat out the entire season of 2014, suspended because of his repeated use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Yet, for the past four seasons, ESPN has paid him a reported $5 million a year to show up once a week to be its analyst on "Sunday Night Baseball." He also worked for ESPN's competition, Fox Sports, as a post-game panelist during the World Series. Talk about a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Just how much do PEDs enhance one's performance anyhow? There has never been an exact figure set, but skeptics point to the numbers put up by Brady Anderson of the Baltimore Orioles. In 1996, he hit 50 home runs, becoming then just the 12th player in major-league history to do so. That's more than twice as many round-trippers as Anderson ever hit in any of his other 15 seasons as a player. He only hit more than 20 two other times. He has always denied ever using steroids and has never been formally charged with doing so. Still, there are those who doubt him.

It's not like A-Rod needs the money that ESPN is paying him. He made well over $400 million during his baseball career. You've got to figure that he hasn't gotten around to spending it all.

What kind of message does such a sweet, high-profile deal send out to those of us in the real world?

Let's face it, this is a bad look, bad for the game and even worse for the network that signed him to his big wet kiss of a deal. ESPN was quick to mount its moral high horse and banish Curt Schilling to the baseball hinterlands for making politically incorrect (and egregiously ill-advised) comments on its air, but it not only invited A-Rod to dinner, but it also gave him a seat of honor at the head table.

My question is this: What was in the deal for ESPN? Any time an agreement is struck between two parties, there has to be something in it that benefits each side. We know what was in it for A-Rod -- it gave him a platform to start rebuilding his badly tarnished image, and there was no heavy lifting involved (only Sunday nights); but what about ESPN? There was never any great public demand for A-Rod's inclusion in the telecasts; they didn't result in a big ratings bump; and his observations haven't proven to be particularly memorable. Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those cranks who pick up on every mistake he makes (I'm a crank, but not one of those), either real or perceived. It's just that most of his observations are eminently forgettable. John Smolz, for example, who did color commentary during the World Series, is far more insightful. So what's in it for ESPN? It beats the dickens out of me.

Adding to the mystery of whether or not A-Rod will be back in the "Sunday Night" booth next year is the news that his partner for the past four years, play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian, has already opted out. He prefers to spend his time concentrating on his duties with the MLB Network and as the television voice of the Los Angeles Angels. ESPN will have to break in a new sidekick for him and hope that the chemistry between them works.

There are those who will claim that my viewpoint on Rodriguez is skewed by an innate prejudice against the New York Yankees. To those who make the charge, I say this: "You're right." I am prejudiced against the Yankees, but I well remember the winter of 2003/4 when the Red Sox spent all those long winter nights tirelessly romancing A-Rod only to have the engagement be broken up by the players' union. The Sox -- and A-Rod, too -- thought the deal was done, then the players' union deep-sixed it by deciding that, retooling his deal the way he did, Rodriguez had agreed to too large a cut in his salary. It was only then that the Yankees moved in and hammered out a deal of which the union approved -- thank goodness. A-Rod's soap-opera-like dramas over PEDs soon became a major distraction for the Evil Empire and, rather than being the answer to their prayers, he became an albatross around their neck -- and a darned expensive one, at that.

In 2003, A-Rod's name popped up on a list of players who had supposedly used PEDs before any penalties had been established. He had been guaranteed anonymity before being tested, but his name was leaked, anyhow. He later admitted to using steroids dating back to his days with the Texas Rangers. David Ortiz's name was also on that list, but he has vehemently denied ever using steroids, and baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has since absolved him of any wrong-doing, saying that some of the tests were "false positives."

It matters because the names of both A-Rod and Big Papi are on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. A-Rod, despite ESPN's rehabilitation project, will not be elected. He needs 75 percent of the vote, and that's a high bar to clear. He's a good bet to wind up in Hall-of-Fame limbo along with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. But will he also cost Ortiz the election? Will enough voters lump the two of them together to deny both of them admission? It could very well happen. We'll know in January. Stay tuned.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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