A-Rod ban leaves Hal with choice

First of all, it's easy to be profligate with another guy's money. Sixty-one million bucks is enough cabbage to choke even a Steinbrenner.

For another, I kind of welcome the insanity that having A-Rod in training camp would bring, at least for a week or so next month, and if you've ever whiled away the hours for seven weeks in a big-league training camp, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

But most importantly, even though I fully understand exactly what Alex Rodriguez is, I kind of like the guy, in spite of himself. He's a lot easier to take if you know the player and you know the game, and you know what to expect. He's one of the rare modern athletes who might actually say something interesting, or crazy, or newsworthy.

And believe it or not, he is absolutely the best guy to talk baseball with in the Yankees clubhouse, because for all his ignorance on just about every other subject, he knows his game inside and out, loves it, and loves to talk about it. You can learn more about baseball by talking to Alex Rodriguez for a half-hour than you can by watching every inning of an entire season.

These, of course, are not Steinbrenner's concerns.

His worry is fielding a competitive -- he likes to say "championship-caliber" -- baseball team, and his quandary is, must that necessarily include Alex Rodriguez?

The on-field performance says no, and the off-field distractions are certainly more trouble than the player is worth.

Those are both big problems. The question is, are they problems worth spending $61 million to rectify?

The hard reality is that no matter what you think of A-Rod, the Yankees brought this situation upon themselves, purely out of greed. They must have suspected that at some point, Rodriguez would get exposed as a steroid user; his numbers were simply too good to be true.

Instead, they chose to see records being broken in a Yankees uniform, seats being filled, merchandise moved, and money shoveled in. That is why the Steinbrenner Bros. chose to publicly undermine their own GM, who had vowed he would not negotiate with A-Rod if he opted out of his contract in 2007. It is why they chose to bid against themselves in giving him a raise from his original 10-year, $252 million contract, which was suddenly characterized as inadequate. It is why they allowed five home run clauses, at $6 million a pop, to be built in on top of the $275 million they were guaranteeing him.

And that is why Alex Rodriguez is now vowing to be back in a Yankees uniform, at any cost.

So now, Steinbrenner has two choices, both of them tough to swallow.

He can do nothing, and ensure having Rodriguez to kick around, and vice versa, for the next four years.

Or he can do something that may bruise his wallet but will certainly help his team -- that is, cut A-Rod loose. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but sometime between now and Feb. 19.

Either way, Steinbrenner is parting with that $61 million.

Now, he must decide if it's time to part with Alex Rodriguez, as well.

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