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It's best thing that never happened

This is what I still don't understand about the Red Sox' crush on the boy next door: They chased someone they didn't need. They tried to sell you and themselves an unnecessary luxury item. You expect that from television and pop-up ads. You're taken aback when the seller is your own baseball team.

I actually like Alex Rodriguez, pathetic nickname and all. He has a great bat, great glove, and great looks. Put him in the pinstripes of Steinbrenner or Brioni and it won't make a difference. He is one of those rare players who can be the heart of your lineup and the head of your board meeting.

But he never was worth what the Sox were willing to do for him. And I felt that way long before he knotted his Yankees tie, winked at the New York cameras, and uttered some nausea-inducing line about living a dream.

Before Rodriguez's Dream Job developed a Bronx postscript, it had him in Fenway Park. He was going to play shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra was going to be shipped to Chicago or Los Angeles, and Manny Ramirez was going to be in Texas.

The Sox discussed Rodriguez as a third baseman, but never asked him to play the position. So to fit him in, Boston would have had to give up Nomar and Manny. Let's see. How about I give you my BMW for your two Audis?

Magglio Ordonez, an All-Star player, was often mentioned as a Boston addition to the deal. Ordonez's presence would have made the trading more balanced. At best, though, the talent swapping would have come out even for the Sox. It also would have confirmed that this management team is willing to exchange all its beliefs for about 200 pounds of flesh.

Once upon a time, didn't Larry Lucchino say he wanted Nomar to be a lifetime member of the Sox? Didn't Lucchino start this Evil Empire business in the first place, the suggestion being that Boston would do things differently to slay the beast?

Apparently, the moral of the Sox' Rodriguez pursuit was not unusual at all: If you can't beat the beast, think like it. The problem with that logic is that the Yankees -- the best team of the late 1990s -- didn't win that way. They bought their share of players, but they always had a Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, or Scott Brosius to provide grit and conscience.

Ah, grit and conscience. Sound familiar? That's what Nomar is to the Sox. He's the kind of kid who can't go outside for five minutes without picking up grass stains on his pants and fresh mud on his shoes. Nothing against the reigning American League MVP in New York, but he's the kind of kid who can't go five minutes without picking up a manicure.

Rodriguez has more power. Nomar has a better career batting average and is the closest thing we've seen to Joe DiMaggio when it comes to strikeout infrequency. In his career, Nomar has struck out 390 times. In the last three seasons, Rodriguez has 379 strikeouts.

Both players are halfway to Cooperstown. I'll take Nomar and, oh yeah, the other Hall of Famer the Sox were willing to give away for free.

Isn't it amazing how many times Manny's name doesn't come up in these discussions? Talk of the potential Rodriguez acquisition often turns into a shortstop vs. shortstop debate, when it really should be a projection of assets gained and lost.

We all know Manny's quirks and flaws. If he didn't have them, he wouldn't have been available to anyone after being placed on irrevocable waivers last November. You also have to be fair. If you were ranking the best righthanded hitters in the league, Manny would be in the top five along with Nomar and Rodriguez. And while the Sox and Bill James have been speaking and writing about the importance of on-base percentage, Manny has been living that philosophy for years, season after season.

Look at the numbers. Not many in the AL see more pitches than Manny. As spacey as he can be away from the park, he is a genius in the batter's box.

I remember when he first came up with Cleveland. He clearly had no idea how to be a professional and he still found a way to get on base (.357 in 1994). His on-base numbers in the past five seasons were .442, .457, .405, .450, and .427. His slugging percentages the past five seasons were the best in the league twice, second-best once, and fourth-best twice.

Maybe if Rodriguez were a pitcher, I would have a different analysis. I couldn't care less about the handsome face he would provide for NESN or the marketing opportunities that would unfold for the organization. If the grand remix had taken place, would the Sox be a better team?

I say no.

The only disastrous thing about losing Rodriguez is that it made the region look bad. It opened up all those Little Brother and Hopeless Loser jokes. It made the Sox look timid, indecisive, and cheap.

Owners and executives are supposed to manage expectations. The Sox didn't. They created a thirsty demand for a player they didn't need. Fortunately for them, they got some help. Their trade didn't work out. Soon enough you'll see that it was one of the best things to happen to them all winter.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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