David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - Before Sunday, interrogating Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman or any other Yankees' personnel about the return of Alex Rodriguez seemed like a sensible thing to do. Now, it feels like asking them when the Easter Bunny might show up.
Only more ridiculous.
Consider that Rodriguez was within 72 hours of suiting up for the Yankees in Texas when, all of a sudden, his health began deteriorating faster than a sandcastle at high tide. As soon as Girardi said Friday that he planned to start A-Rod at either third base or DH tonight in Texas -- a landmark moment in this endless rehab saga -- Rodriguez pulled up lame.
But not all at once.
First, there was Saturday's lineup switch from third base to DH for that night's game at Triple-A Scranton due to tightness in his left quadriceps muscle. No biggie, right? A-Rod still played, so how bad could it be?
Well, bad enough that A-Rod was held out of Sunday's RailRiders matinee, which also happened to be the expiration date of his 20-day rehab stint. Then came the news he was headed back to New York for an MRI, followed of course by the revelation that Rodriguez had suffered a grade 1 quad strain and would remain on the disabled list for at least another week.
Despite the Yankees' efforts to pretend otherwise, once A-Rod wound up in that MRI tube, he was likely to be shipped back to Tampa.
This quad injury again raises the question: What will finish A-Rod first, his two surgically repaired hips or Bud Selig?
We always figured it would be Selig, whose PED investigators have been building the Biogenesis case for most of this calendar year. But now we're not so sure, especially after Rodriguez was only hours away from boarding a plane for Dallas before getting in a limo to New York instead.
It's not like a quad strain is a career-ending injury. There is the possibility, however, that this leg issue is only the beginning of a larger problem that could be traced back to last January's hip operation, a more intensive rebuild than the first. We're still not there yet, and it's too early to think this could be used as a jumping-off point to Rodriguez ultimately collecting medical insurance on the roughly $103-million left on his contract.
But until Rodriguez actually plays again for the Yankees, that's what everyone is going to think. The longer he remains in limbo, the louder the drumbeat becomes, and the more people are willing to believe he is getting ready to take the money and run. If he truly is physically unable to play, that would be the eventual outcome, with the Yankees salvaging up to 80 percent of his salary in the process.
Cashman is not in any hurry to see A-Rod again, despite his team's on-field pleas for help. Before Friday's game, the GM talked as if Rodriguez still had plenty of hoops to jump through before being activated. Turns out, Cashman was correct.
Does the GM know something the rest of us don't? Or was it just wishful thinking on his part? Stuck in the middle is Girardi, who answers dozens of questions about A-Rod every day and insists that he's looking forward to him coming back.
"I think we're all a little bit anxious to see how he looks physically," Girardi said. " . . . He hasn't played in a while, he's almost 38, and you kind of want to see what you've got."
But the Yankees think they already know what they have in A-Rod, who now appears to be worth more to them as an insurance claim than a third baseman. And Sunday's setback only reinforced their suspicions.
Does it mean he won't be back this season? That's impossible to say for certain. Both A-Rod and the Yankees had everyone convinced he would return tonight -- until he didn't. So we'll keep asking, even if the answers don't mean much. With A-Rod, he'll have to be seen to be believed.