David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - The morning after Alex Rodriguez tied Willie Mays, not to mention won Friday night's game with homer No. 660, the Yankees went on the offensive in their fight over his triggered payments.
Until Saturday, this had been a battle waged mostly in the shadows, through unnamed sources. But once A-Rod's milestone home run -- or not, depending on what side you're on -- zipped into the Monster seats, Brian Cashman chose to take the dispute public by stating, in so many words, that the Yankees have no intention of paying Rodriguez the $6 million linked to joining Mays at fourth on the all-time list.
"We have the right, but not the obligation, to do something -- and that's it," Cashman said before Saturday's game at Fenway Park. "It's not 'you do this and you get that.' It's completely different.
"If we choose to pursue something, we'll choose to pursue it. If we choose not to, it's our right not to. And that means in both cases we're honoring the contract."
The latter part is what has riled the Yankees lately, the suggestion that the team is reneging on a side deal they made with Rodriguez when he re-upped for $275 million before the 2008 season. According to Cashman, however, the Yankees seem to have language built in to the contract that ensures they have the hammer when it comes to A-Rod's deserving the money or not.
Bottom line: If the Yankees believed they could generate revenue by marketing Rodriguez's pursuit of Barry Bonds -- while jumping Mays, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron along the way -- he would be compensated for those efforts with five separate $6-million payments, the first of which was activated Friday night at Fenway.
The flip side? If the Yankees sized up the Bonds chase as a financial loser, they also had the right, not the obligation -- again, Cashman's words -- to scuttle the agreement. And with A-Rod's reputation all but destroyed by the Biogenesis suspension, it was an easy decision for the Yankees to make.
This is the Yankees' assertion, and the reasoning behind removing the term "milestone" from any stat sheets or promotional materials that include Rodriguez. While that's still petty behavior by management toward one of its own players, especially one with as much value as A-Rod, this probably is a good time for us to go the mea culpa route after recently insisting that Rodriguez should be paid the money for fulfilling his end of the bargain.
If -- as Cashman said -- these payments legally are up to the Yankees' discretion, we can't blame them for not wanting to be complicit in A-Rod reaching PED-tainted milestones. Maybe they're a little late on this, considering Rodriguez has admitted using PEDs as far back as 2001. But writing an escape clause into the marketing deal is just smart business.
Should A-Rod choose to file a grievance for the $6 million, and it doesn't appear he has yet, we'll see how smart the Yankees are.
"The great thing about contracts, if there's any disputes, there's mechanisms for anybody who has a misunderstanding or misinterpretation," Cashman said. "I don't think that we believe there's any misunderstanding. I think it's pretty clear. We always honor our contracts. And we're not going to do anything different in this case, either."
With A-Rod, however, the Yankees have been wrestling over cash from the moment we first learned of his Biogenesis involvement. His 2014 suspension netted them $25 million in savings, and with another $61 million owed to Rodriguez through 2017, they don't want to pay him a dime more.
When Cashman was asked point-blank Saturday if the Yankees won't be making the payment to Rodriguez, he didn't hedge very much. "I think I clarified it," he said.
To A-Rod's credit, he's taken the high road here and hasn't been lured into the daily war of words that poisoned the second half of the 2013 season for the Yankees. Rodriguez has made no public claim on the $6 million, instead repeating a string of well-worn baseball-first cliches when the subject is raised.
"I know those things will work themselves out," Rodriguez said.
Not exactly fighting words. Aside from a few playful jabs, A-Rod has been a model citizen, which has been the best possible scenario for him and the Yankees. Whether that continues is up to the two parties involved, regardless of what the contract actually says, and on Saturday, Cashman drew the Yankees' line in the dirt.