By JIM LITKE
The instructions were so simple it makes you wonder what part of “just shut … up” Alex Rodriguez didn’t understand.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s directive the other day was calibrated for maximum effect, sure. He knew exactly what he was doing. It’s why he tucked a profanity in the middle.
But Cashman also knows better than anyone that for better or worse — probably worse, and certainly for the foreseeable future — the ball club and A-Rod are stuck with each other. Bottom line, all he asked for at the moment was a little peace and quiet.
Like the majority of Yankee fans and just about everybody else up and down the club’s chain of command, Cashman probably wishes A-Rod would just retire, preferably to a mountain-top retreat. Or else beg for a trade, maybe to Rodriguez’s hometown Marlins, but ideally to a ball club on the other side of world, say Japan or Korea.
But Cashman can’t do a thing about it.
Rodriguez has a surgically repaired hip and a legally binding contract. The Yankees desperately need more offense, especially with Mark Teixeira now out for the rest of the season with a bum wrist and Rodriguez’s replacements at third hitting a combined .240, with just four homers and 23 RBIs through Wednesday.
If A-Rod comes back after the All-Star break as planned, and manages at age 38 to put up marginally better numbers than those, the job will still be his. That’s assuming that he doesn’t get suspended, despite being tied to a now-shuttered, anti-aging clinic in Miami being investigated for dispensing performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s hardly a good solution, but right now it’s the only one. The Yankees are committed to paying Rodriguez him $28 million this year, and $86 million more through 2017. Dumb as that deal looks now, A-Rod makes it look even dumber every time he calls attention to himself.
After benching him through last year’s playoffs, the Yankees told Rodriguez to focus more on baseball in the offseason than celebrity. But A-Rod couldn’t resist. Barely a week later, he was spied escorting former WWE wrestler and girlfriend-of-the-moment Torrie Wilson around Beverly Hills, checking out pricey real estate. Next he opened a Twitter account and added another publicist or two to his already considerable stable. Predictably, trouble soon followed.
Rodriguez’ early posts were about things most people already knew, with the occasional exclamation point to make it feel more like real news: “First time facing live pitching today … Simulated game yesterday — nice to see real game pitching action!”
So, presumably, when a team doctor cleared A-Rod to begin playing real games, he simply treated it as more of the same: “Visit from Dr. Kelly over the weekend, who gave me the best news — the green light to play games again!”
Cashman could have reacted by picking up the phone and directing Rodriguez to the appropriate pages in the handbook regarding how injuries are reported. As manager Joe Girardi reminded him after Tuesday night’s game, “It goes through our training staff, our doctors, our GM and then it probably gets to me.”
A day later, Rodriguez picked up the phone and spoke with Cashman and team president Randy Levine for 30 minutes.
“Everybody is on the same page and we’re all going to communicate and work together to get Alex back as quickly as possible,” Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said. “They’re all back on track.”
Except they weren’t.
Instead of letting the whole thing end there, someone inside A-Rod’s camp told ESPN.com that Rodriguez doesn’t feel the club really wants him back. That’s likely true. But unlike Rodriguez, and unlike all the past attempts to publicly shame their overpriced asset, the Yankees said little. Cashman’s terse “just shut … up” was revealing for just how annoyed he’s become, but more than that, it was advice that A-Rod do the same.
By coincidence, Yankee captain Derek Jeter took another step Thursday in his own long rehabilitation from a broken ankle. Rodriguez has always suffered in the comparison with Jeter, and so it was one more time.
Part of the rehab process involves a minor-league assignment, and when reporters asked the date it would begin, all Jeter said was, “As soon as I can get out there, I’ll get out there. We haven’t got that far yet.”
Not that hard, is it?
Reach Jim Litke at jlitkeap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.