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A-Rod talkin' like Mr. Cub
With options open, Alex is still batty over 'father' Piniella
Alex Rodriguez faces decision on future as he can opt out of contract after season, but Yankee currently appears to have mind on Cubs and their new manager Lou Piniella.
There's nothing like the possibilty of being reunited with now two-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez to bring out the Sweet in Cubs skipper.
While Alex Rodriguez has demonstrated a penchant for self-analysis, the media has provided ample evidence that this is a two-way couch.
We hang on A-Rod's every word. The season is still a month away from opening. Look what already has happened.
Rodriguez held that circus-like book signing at Barnes & Noble. Then, there he was in Tampa revising the description of his relationship with Derek Jeter.
This was followed by analysis of the "friendship." Media Freuds said the process of baring his soul was good for Mr. Rodriguez. They described it as a "cleansing."
Measuring A-Rod's words and actions has taken on added importance in determining his future. This is apparent even to those who speak before they think. The door to hyperinterpretation has been left wide open by Rodriguez and his agent Scott Boras.
For the purpose of financial flexibility, and maybe peace of mind too, Rodriguez has not taken the option of opting out of his Yankees contract (worth $25 mil per) off the table. As long as the option to opt out at the end of this season is available, there will be buzz over whether A-Rod already has another destination in mind.
Speculation will mount Monday night (10 p.m.) when Rodriguez appears on HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel." If you come away sensing the Yankees third baseman has the Windy City on his mind you will have plenty of company.
During a profile of new Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who managed Rodriguez for seven seasons in Seattle, A-Rod is interviewed by Frank Deford. While Deford never asks Rodriguez to compare Piniella to Joe Torre, it is abundantly clear the managerial qualities - and style - A-Rod enthusiastically attributes to Piniella are not subscribed to by the Yankees manager.
Rodriguez also tells Deford that Piniella "has been just like a father to me." During the piece, Piniella picks up a bat with the inscription: "To my second mom." The bat was sent by A-Rod to Piniella's wife, Anita.
Visions of Piniella wigging big on umpires, something Torre never does, still register positively with Rodriguez.
A-Rod has a serious look when he says: "But that type of passion went right on through us as players. For me it worked 100%."
For Rodriguez, Piniella is a man of radical contrasts. The sensitive side of Piniella, his ability to coddle players, also motivated him. A-Rod says during his rookie season in Seattle, Piniella blasted him for swinging wildly at a sequence of Dennis Eckersley sliders.
"I remember being 18, almost in tears," Rodriguez says. "... I just felt like, 'Get me back in my senior high school uniform.' Then sure enough (Piniella) gives me a big kiss on top of my head. He goes, 'Son, I love you. I love you. I just want you to do well.'
"From that day on," Rodriguez says, "for the next 12 years, he's been just like a father to me."
Rodriguez calls Piniella a "great" teacher.
He tells a story about finishing up a postgame spread after a night game, showering and making his way out of the Mariners clubhouse.
Doing his own Piniella impersonation, A-Rod says: "'Come here son, let's work on your swing.' ... This is now 1 o'clock in the morning. I can remember it like it was yesterday. He (Piniella) will be there in his underwear and T-shirt, maybe smoking a cigarette, and we'll stay there until 2:30-3 o'clock in the morning talking about a swing."
Piniella admitted he cried when Rodriguez left Seattle.
"No, I didn't know that (he cried)," Rodriguez says. "That was the toughest thing I've ever had to do in my life. I'll be honest with you, it was a relief once (Piniella) left Seattle because I knew the torture stopped a little bit ... I'm free."
If he decides to opt out, Rodriguez will be "free" again. The emotion he displays while speaking about his former manager and mentor leaves a distinct impression that reuniting with Piniella would be a dream come true.
And yet, yesterday, Rodriguez told Daily News Yankees beat writer Mark Feinsand a reunion with Pinella is not likely to be in the cards.
"He's on a different team in a different league," Rodriguez said. "My memories of Lou are in the present and the past, not the future."
The HBO spot is not the first time A-Rod has taken us on a tour of his Piniella pedestal.
Last June, after belting a 12th-inning, game-winning two-run homer off Braves reliever Jorge Sosa, Rodriguez told Yankees radiocaster Suzyn Waldman he had spent the prior evening in his Park Ave. condo talking "hitting" and "self-confidence" with Piniella, who was in town doing promotional work.
On that occasion, Rodriguez said the sight of Piniella was like seeing "an angel from the sky." After that June meeting, speculators wondered how Torre felt about Piniella being A-Rod's spiritual/hitting adviser. Now, with the Yankees manager perhaps more sensitive knowing George Steinbrenner was ready to pull the plug on him in in October and plug in Piniella, will A-Rod's upcoming Sweet Lou tribute rub Mr. Torre the wrong way?
"I don't take it as (a slight) if it is. It doesn't bother me at all," Torre said yesterday. "We look for whatever way to make players better. If they can do this on their own, find someone that gives them that secure feeling, so be it."
Pretty good analysis, right?