It’s a baseball what-if that remains forever compelling because the answer can never be known — and because what occurred soon thereafter rewarded the faith of generations.
How would Red Sox history be different had their attempt to acquire Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers in the winter of 2003-04 been fulfilled?
Remember the frenzied pursuit? Of course you do. It was a pivotal moment in Red Sox history, a near-miss of seismic, franchise-altering proportions. Rodriguez was the consensus best player in baseball, a camera-friendly 27-year-old Gold Glove-winning shortstop who’d just hit 47 homers and been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
The Red Sox, coming off a spirit-crushing seven-game loss to the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series, coveted him. Of course they did; every team did. Rodriguez was years from his epic fall, from becoming a jacked-up pariah, a banned and shunned cautionary tale, a wasted shell-casing of what he once was.
“The Deal: Alex Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox,’’ a superb 20-plus minute short film by Colin and Nick Barnicle of Prospect Productions, reexamines this great what-if in fascinating fashion. (It debuted on Grantland.com Wednesday under ESPN’s “30 for 30” umbrella and re-airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.)
The film, which will leave Red Sox fans with a sense of amusement and relief, reminds us that the deal-that-almost-was involved the Chicago White Sox as a third team and was as complicated as it was shocking. The Red Sox would have sent Manny Ramirez and pitching prospect Jon Lester to Texas for Rodriguez, with Nomar Garciaparra going to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez. White Sox pitcher Brandon McCarthy also would have been part of the trade.
It’s common knowledge that the trade fell apart because the players’ union wouldn’t sign off on a reworked contract for Rodriguez that included a paycut. But the film is full of small revelations: New Red Sox manager Terry Francona was so thrilled by the prospect of the trade, then-assistant general manager Jed Hoyer recalled, that when presented at his hotel room with a hypothetical lineup card featuring Rodriguez in the No. 3 spot, he danced a jig while dressed in nothing but his underwear. Hoyer also revealed that somewhere in his files, he has one heck of a unique collectable: a signed Rodriguez contract with the Red Sox.
Knowing now what we didn’t know then, the natural reaction among Red Sox fans is to exhale and thank the baseball gods (and the players’ union, which presumably considers baseball gods a synonym) that it didn’t happen. Traded to the Yankees instead, Rodriguez’s star crashed to earth after early success; he became a pinstriped punch line.
Simmons up next
Comcast SportsNet New England confirmed the scoop Mike Gorman dropped during an interview on The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” this week. ESPN’s Bill Simmons will join him as the color analyst when the Celtics visit the Lakers next Friday.
Simmons, whose many roles at ESPN include serving as an analyst on its NBA studio programming, has done in-game commentary on occasion on certain college and NBA broadcasts in the past.
CSNNE has featured a rotating cast of color analysts on road games because Tom Heinsohn no longer travels. Gorman brings out the best in them much in the same way Don Orsillo has on Red Sox games in recent years when Jerry Remy has been absent; his rapport with P.J. Carlesimo is particularly entertaining, no surprise given their Big East roots.
This hardly comes as a surprise, but no one has been more engaging and informative than Jackie MacMullan, who even dropped a Jack Sikma reference (in comparison to Kelly Olynyk) in her debut during Monday’s Celtics-Bucks game.
The most intriguing analyst pairing is yet to come. Celtics boss Danny Ainge and Chris Herren are scheduled to join Gorman for games against the Hawks (April 9), Cavaliers (April 12), and 76ers (April 14).
Colleague Shalise Manza Young reported Thursday that Mike Lombardi, recently fired after a single year as the Browns general manager, has a deal that is all but done to join the Patriots’ front office. While that makes sense — Lombardi worked for Bill Belichick during his stint as head coach of the Browns in the early ’90s — it’s disappointing to some degree from a sports media sense. In between stints in NFL front offices, Lombardi carved out a niche as an affable and informative “insider” at the National Football Post and then the NFL Network.
Turn on NBC Sports Network this week, and chances are chief topics will include twist lifts and toe loops. The cable sports network is the primary home of figure skating events during NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics. But that’s not all you’ll find on NBCSN this week. Dave Goucher and Ken Hodge Jr. have the call of the Hockey East showdown between Boston University and New Hampshire. The puck drops Friday night at 7.