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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Did A-Rod put foot in mouth?

Alex Rodriguez (13) said something that had the Blue Jays squawking. (ADRIAN WYLD/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Bush league or smart play?

Sometimes the answer depends on the individual involved. It almost always depends on which team you like.

The reeling New York Yankees come to Fenway tonight, and Red Sox fans can't wait to mock the pathetic millionaires from the Bronx. Pinstripe piñata Alex Rodriguez no doubt will be the primary target of Hub hecklers.

A-Rod made a lot of news north of the border this week, and some of it actually involved baseball.

For those who haven't seen the play, here's what happened in the ninth inning Wednesday night at Toronto: Rodriguez was on first base with two outs and the Yankees leading, 7-5, when Jorge Posada hit a pop to the left side of the infield. Blue Jays third baseman Howie Clark was waiting to catch the ball when Rodriguez -- running behind the infielder on his way to third -- yelled something as he ran past Clark. A-Rod said he yelled, "Hey." Clark says he heard, "Mine." In any event, Clark backed away, thinking the shortstop was going to make the catch. Instead, the ball fell to earth, giving Posada a cheap hit. A-Rod eventually scored.

The Yankees won, 10-5, and the Blue Jays were incensed. Toronto manager John Gibbons said it was "bush league" and third baseman Troy Glaus, who did not play because of a hamstring injury, said he hadn't seen such a thing since "Major League II."

Something tells me Curt Schilling will have an opinion about this, but the Sox and Yankees were off yesterday, so we weren't able to take a poll of the current rosters to make a ruling on the play. Early returns indicate Rodriguez is going to take another beating on this one, especially on the heels of being splashed sensationalistically across a New York tabloid earlier this week. He was universally ripped after illegally slapping the baseball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove during the 2004 American League Championship Series, and Sox fans are still angry about a hard slide (and elbow toward the groin) into Dustin Pedroia at Yankee Stadium last week. Now this.

"I would say it's bush league all the way," former Red Sox manager and big league infielder Joe Morgan said yesterday. "His intent was to make him back off and let the ball drop, which happened. My wife says I've done it, which is not true. I remember when Eddie Stanky used to get behind second base, jumping up and down when guys were trying to hit, and they wound up changing the rules and making that illegal."

Hall of Famer hurler Jim Palmer disagreed.

"It worked, didn't it?" said the three-time Cy Young winner. "You're trying to win, aren't you? The guy's an easy target, come on. I don't know what he yelled, but they are underachieving and you do what you've got to do. Big deal. It's just baseball. What are you going to do next, say, 'I'm sorry, I threw inside. I intimidated you.' ? There are just certain things you do. It's survival of the fittest. He yelled. They're desperate. They're playing like dogs. They need to do something like that. Maybe that's going to turn it around for them like Jason Varitek sticking his catcher's mitt in A-Rod's mouth."

Carl Yastrzemski said, "It's a little bit both bush and smart, I guess. The third baseman should know where the shortstop is, and you pretty much know the guy's voice. But I would not have done anything like that."

"I'm surprised and I think it's bush," said Johnny Pesky. "You don't do that. If the umpire was on the ball, he'd have probably called him out and kicked the guy out of the ballgame. I never heard of such a thing. I'm surprised at A-Rod. He didn't strike me as being that kind of player, but for God sakes, he's done so many bush things this year, I'm a little suspect of him now."

Longtime big league infielder Mike Andrews said, "I think it's a smart play, I really do. At second base, we always would fake like it was a double play to try to make the guy slide so he can't go to third. Gosh, I really don't see anything wrong with it. You yell and if the guy bites, that's a pretty good play. I'm kind of intrigued by it."

By any interpretation, A-Rod's play comes under the umbrella of baseball's unwritten rules.

There are certain things you just don't do. You don't talk about your pitcher's no-hitter while the game is in progress, you don't bunt to break up a no-hitter, you don't steal bases or swing at 3-and-0 pitches with a big lead, you don't peek at the catcher's signs when you are hitting, and you must join the scrum if your teammates are in a brawl.

The old hidden ball trick is a baseball ploy that infuriates the opposition.

"We were great at it when I managed Pawtucket," Morgan recalled. "One time we were going to play Toledo and their manager, Cal Ermer, had a team meeting saying that anybody who got duped with the hidden ball trick would be fined $50. Well, he was coaching third when Glenn Hoffman, our third baseman, pulled the trick on one of their runners at third and our guys were yelling that Ermer should have been fined $100 for letting it happen. We were so good at it that one year the International League sent out a memo saying, 'No more hidden ball tricks.' "

Sox fans ready to hate on A-Rod should take a look at Red Auerbach's first book, "Basketball for the Player, the Fan and the Coach," which featured a chapter listing 57 "strategic moves," including: "Faking injuries is used for many reasons" . . . "grabbing or pulling the pants or shirt of the opponent can be very aggravating" . . . "some players may agitate their opponents by incessant chatter, refusing to talk to them at all, or even ridicule" . . . "if the opposing team has a high scorer, keep reminding the other players of their uselessness because the scorer takes all the shots."

Red wrote, "Whenever there is pressure to win on any coach or team you will find men deviating from what is considered the way of good sportsmanship. It is up to the player himself to decide what is 'dirty' and what is 'tricky.' "

I say Red would have given A-Rod a cigar.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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