David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees' lengthy disabled list includes a handful of former All-Stars, but it has only one A-Rod, and his arrival Monday at the team's minor-league facility in Tampa reminded everyone just what they've been missing.
And most of it has little to do with baseball.
For all the injuries the Yankees have suffered since Derek Jeter first fractured his left ankle last October, Alex Rodriguez's return from hip surgery had been pushed to the background. Partly because it felt too far off in the distance, but mainly because the Yankees have treated A-Rod as if he were radioactive since the whole Biogenesis mess leaked out like a toxic waste spill.
Rodriguez didn't show up for a single minute of spring training, and when he chose to be at Yankee Stadium for Opening Day, he declined to join his teammates on the field for the pregame introductions. As for this latest step in his rehab, Rodriguez announced his Tampa visit on Facebook before the Yankees even had a chance to update the media. Or were begrudgingly forced to do it.
Because as soon as A-Rod began doing things on a baseball field -- as he did Monday, fenced off from reporters and passersby -- the Yankees got dragged back into his drama-filled existence all over again.
It was a relatively peaceful month on that front, with Rodriguez remaining in the shadows. But that will start changing as Major League Baseball continues its investigation into Biogenesis. When asked Monday about being at the center of that scandal, Rodriguez ducked the question like a high-and- tight fastball, saying, "I can only control what I can control."
If A-Rod is able to sidestep a suspension and avoid any major setbacks in his long rehab from hip surgery, there appears to be a decent chance that he'll return to the Yankees' lineup, possibly around his initial timetable of late July.
"The way the season ended last year was very embarrassing," Rodriguez said. "I have a lot of unfinished business."
Short of the Yankees collecting insurance on the remaining $118 million owed to A-Rod, which seems unlikely, or a suspension that would save them a few bucks -- also unlikely -- the last, best thing they can hope for is to have a serviceable Rodriguez for the final two months of the season.
If Rodriguez already is hitting off a tee, that's more than Jeter is permitted to do, and it's not out of the question that he might return before the captain.
After all the talk of voiding his contract, the Yankees actually could use Rodriguez, even if it's a watered-down version from his MVP-caliber days. But it's impossible to predict what kind of player he will be months from now -- he turns 38 in July -- and Rodriguez explained that this second hip surgery has left a much bigger dent than the first one did in 2009.
"This one was a lot deeper, a lot more severe," Rodriguez said. "It was five anchors, and they shaved the bone. They didn't do any of that in '09."
A-Rod won't completely know the fallout from this surgery until he pushes himself hard enough for an accurate test. So now the Yankees wait along with him to see how this whole A-Rod saga plays out.
Monday was just a reminder of what everyone still has left to look forward to.