$25.2 million? Per year? Ain’t no
athlete worth that kind of money

Oct 10, 2006 5:27 AM

Playing baseball for the New York Yankees these days has all the charm and rewards of patrolling the streets of Baghdad. There is on one side of the street the chance to become a folk hero, to win the adulation of every cab driver in the city and all of their customers, and on the other side the chance to be blown to smithereens.

When Detroit — Detroit of all ignoble places west of the Hudson River — ended the Yankees season in abrupt fashion, the firing began again. This was not the Red Sox, the Yankees’ favorite post season patsies and usual targets of derision, but the Tigers. While pictures of Detroit manager Jim Leyland being carried off the field by his stalwarts flooded the news, there was another, of an obviously anguished George Steinbrenner, bundled up and scowling as his expensive minions, and along with that a year-by-year review of Yankee playoff blowups, starting with the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks and continuing with the defeats in the first round of 2002 first round against the Angels, the 2003 World Series against the Marlins, the 2004 American League championship against the despised Red Sox, the 2005 Alex Rodriguez error that led to the Angels’ victory, and now this disaster.

One New York headline read, "Rodriquez and Teammates Fall Apart, and Yankees Fall Short Again," and it was pointed out, unkindly but very pertinently, that A-Rod is being paid $25.2 million a year for 10 years to win the Yankees the World Series.

Stop and think about this a minute. Twenty-five million dollars a year.

There is no athlete in the world worth that, to any team, win or lose the World Series. It is not only insane, it is immoral, and it should be pointed out daily, in every story, whether the Yankees win or lose.

If there is any athlete worth that kind of money — in hard cash returns to his owners over the years — it is one who gets to see none of it, not a penny.

I wrote, after the Preakness when the horse lovers of America began mourning daily, with flowers and poetry and deep despair over Barbaro, that the irony of the injury — besides giving thoroughbred racing the daily news story it needs so badly — was that they were mourning the wrong horse. I said then that it was possible that Bernardini was a better horse, and that heresy brought scorn and ridicule and the charge that I had no emotion for a fallen hero.

It has become apparent that Bernardini is a super horse, and it is likely that he will remain so, barring a career-ending or disrupting injury or illness, both of which plague race horses regardless of breed.

Thoroughbred racing, which longs for the kind of rivalry that riveted attention more than a quarter century ago when Alydar and Affirmed provided the thrills of the game, gets another now in the upcoming Nov.4 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, when Bernardini meets the undefeated west coast champion Lava Man.

Last Saturday things got so bad — or so good, depending on your outlook””that only three horses showed up to run against Bernardini in the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont Park. He treated them with contempt, so much so that his jockey Javier Castellano engaged in the kind of talk that results when people begin attributing human thoughts and reactions to horses.

Castellano said, "I didn’t want him on the lead today, because I want him to be focused for his next race." He was talking about wanting an easy victory, of course, but expressed it in anthropomorphic terms that made it sound as if Bernardini knew he was going to meet Lava Man.

It is unlikely that Bernardini knows anything about Lava Man, who now has won seven straight races on the West Coast. He is more focused, I suspect, on the hot mash or hay waiting for him in his stall when he returns from the races.

Not only is thoroughbred racing fortunate to have this prospect of two super heroes meeting in the Breeders’ Cup, but it gets an East-West rivalry of epic proportions. Forget the World Series. This is a battle of champions, and may move Bernardini into the lofty hall of immortal race horses, right up there with Man O War and Secretariat.