It might hurt to watch, but every time he gallops into his trademark home run trot, accompanied by the facial expression that says, ‘I got this under control,' Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez is doing more than sending a message that his career is not finished.
He's also giving fans a reminder, perhaps unwanted, of how great he was and where he would've ranked among the all-time greats had it not been for, well, you know the rest.
We might not want to admit it now, but there was no denying Rodriguez was part of one of the most dynamic duos in baseball history. Make no mistake about it: there was a time when Rodriguez was being talked about in reverential terms as one of the best players ever. He was only a kid, in his 20s, barely needing a daily shave, and if he wasn't the best player in the game, he only had to look over his shoulder toward center field to find him in teammate Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey and Rodriguez were such an incredible pair that it is easy to forget they once formed one of the mightiest offensive combinations in baseball history -- if not the best of all time. But even sadder is that perhaps the events of the last two decades have seemed to push Griffey, considered the best player of his generation by many, away from the limelight.
Visiting Seattle, maybe the most underrated city in baseball, is always fun, but if you were a baseball fan in the 1990s, it was beyond compare. The Mariners didn't peak until 2001, ironically after both Griffey and Rodriguez had left. But in those formative years, it was the best show in baseball.
Griffey and Rodriguez are still arguably the best No. 1 choices in the history of baseball's amateur draft. And in their days with the Mariners, they were both at the height of their respective careers, hitting in the middle of the lineup and anchoring the middle of the team's defense. They were a magical pair.
Griffey was 29 during his last season with Seattle in 1999, when he hit 48 home runs with 134 RBIs and played center field like few have ever played it before. Rodriguez, meanwhile, had 42 homers with 111 RBIs that same year. He had already earned a reputation as the best shortstop in the game during a time when Derek Jeter was coming into his own and Cal Ripken Jr. was still three years away from retiring.
It's easy to forget now, but Griffey had 457 home runs at the end of his age-30 season (Rodriguez, by comparison, had 464) and was considered a prime candidate to break Hank Aaron's then-all-time record of 755. After he had taken a hometown discount to return to play in Cincinnati, Griffey would have only one more productive year. In 2000, during his first season with the Reds, Griffey hit .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBIs before injuries dismantled his career in what should have been his peak years.
From 1993-98, Rodriguez played in Griffey's shadow, which was not a bad place to be. After the 2000 season, the Rodriguez saga that we now know too well began with the mind-boggling 10-year, $252 million contract he signed with the Texas Rangers.
In Texas, where he played under both former Orioles manager Johnny Oates and current O's skipper Buck Showalter, Rodriguez quickly became the man. That run, however, would last only three years -- productive for him, but not the team, which was headed for bankruptcy and a trade that remains a black mark for baseball. Rodriguez was shipped to the Yankees prior to the 2004 season, in a deal that the Rangers agreed to pay an average of $10 million of Rodriguez's annual salary.
At the time of the trade, there wasn't much debate Rodriguez was a better shortstop than Jeter. But there was about as much chance of Jeter making a position switch as there was Rodriguez wearing the No. 3 jersey he had worn his entire career.
Something else that's almost forgotten was a trade that was agreed to between the Rangers and Boston Red Sox in 2003 that would have sent Rodriguez to the Yankees' archrival. But the deal was ultimately negated by the MLB Players Association, which wouldn't allow Rodriguez to waive some benefits from his Texas contract.
We can only wonder what havoc Rodriguez might have caused playing in a shadow he undoubtedly would've enjoyed -- the one cast by the Green Monster at Fenway Park. The Red Sox also had a shortstop of note, Nomar Garciaparra, coming off a year during which he hit .301 with 28 homers and 105 RBIs. But they were willing to make the switch and ended up trading Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline in 2004.
While the possibility of Rodriguez frolicking in Fenway is only a distant memory, one can only speculate what might have been had the Red Sox been willing to accept the same deal offered to the Yankees. Would they have agreed to up the ante when Rodriguez opted out of his contract after the 2007 season, when he looked like a legitimate candidate to break every home run record?
No doubt enhanced by the $30 million they'd already received from the Rangers, the Yankees generously extended that contract and gave Rodriguez a 10-year, $275 million deal.
Now, Rodriguez is hitting homers for a team he's already sued once and likely will again if he hopes to collect any of the bonuses associated with his climb on the all-time home run ladder.
As it has developed, the whole picture is not pretty for anybody involved -- not Rodriguez, not the teams, and not the would-be records or baseball. But with each home run, it is a reminder of how good Rodriguez was -- and what he might have accomplished if only, well, you know the rest.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.