|Alex Rodriguez's personal life appears to be batty, but he produces with a bat in his hands. (Jim mcisaac/Getty Images)|
NEW YORK - Whose problems are worse?
In this corner, your Boston Red Sox: Manny vs. Jack McCormick . . . Jason Varitek's slump . . . The implosion of the bullpen.
And in this corner, the New York Yankees: A closed-door meeting after last night's 7-0 loss to the Red Sox . . . A-Rod and Madonna . . . Hank Steinbrenner rips his team . . . Do they have enough talent to make the playoffs?
For some answers, we turned to the resident expert on both teams - Johnny Damon. Suffice to say, Damon hasn't been a Red Sox for a while - he's in enemy pinstripes. But he still knows the personnel.
Here's the conversation:
Q: What did you think of Manny shoving Jack McCormick?
JD: I don't know the details of what went on. I know Manny and I know Jack and I got along great with both of them. So what happened, it's unfortunate.
Q: Was 16 a high ticket request for a player?
JD: Where was it?
JD: Maybe not in Houston. I don't know. I always have a lot of requests for tickets in Tampa because I live in the Orlando area. Could've been a lot at the last minute. Maybe it was a shock.
Q: You've been around a lot of traveling secretaries . . .
JD: Jack is definitely one of the best. He's still employed there, isn't he? Yeah. That's good. It's tough because you have to deal with players and their requests and get rooms for their families and just keep everyone happy. It's a tough job.
Q: Hank rips into the team and you respond with 18 runs. What's with that?
JD: We know what we have to do. We haven't been able to score runs on a team that has all of these great hitters. Hank is right, we need to produce better. With the guys in this room, there's no excuse for it.
Q: How about Alex Rodriguez being in the news with his alleged relationship with Madonna and problems in his marriage?
JD: We're not even worried about it. It's not any of our business what's going in his personal life, so we can't get into that. I have to worry about myself on and off the field and my own family. That's it. Just don't get into other people's lives like that. This is New York and we're used to stuff like that being out there. We're a veteran team that can handle those things. They aren't distractions to us. It's just normal stuff.
It isn't normal that both teams have problems simultaneously. It isn't normal that the teams are battling for second place instead of first. It isn't normal that Boston comes here after being swept by the first-place Tampa Bay Rays, whom the Yankees play next.
But here we are.
While we can speculate about A-Rod's marital problems and his alleged romantic link to Madonna, we must not forget he's one shy of tying Mickey Mantle in career homers (536). That should be pretty big in New York. He's also having another great season despite spending time on the disabled list. A-Rod and Madonna have the same trainer and agent, and they're both experiencing marital issues. The New York Daily News reported that A-Rod has been seen at Madonna's Manhattan flat late at night. Breaking down video, I bet.
The catching issue is also fascinating. The Yankees are happy they have their guy - Jorge Posada - signed for a while (three years at $13.1 million per). Pitchers love throwing to him - he's very underrated in that area - and he can still hit (.293 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 133 at-bats before last night). Varitek, a free agent at the end of the season, is going through the worst slump of his career (0 for 17, 3 for 48, and 12 for 102).
As those struggles intensify, there is less chance Varitek will see a Posada-like contract fall into his lap. And the Red Sox will have to decide how far to go in years and dollars for a player who isn't what he once was as a hitter. But there's a long way to go before that decision has to be made.
The Red Sox bullpen has also been cause for concern. The Sox are definitely trying to do it the right way. You have to develop your own bullpen. But the guys they're developing are getting shelled. The bullpen has already lost 15 games, one more than all of last season. The Yankees might have weakened their pen by inserting Joba Chamberlain in the rotation, but the recent horror show of Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, and Craig Hansen has made the Sox long for the return of 42-year-old Mike Timlin, who was activated last night.
The Red Sox obviously don't care how they are perceived regarding the Ramírez-McCormick run-in. They do things their way and handle them the way they see fit. They don't need to gauge the fan base or the media or the rest of baseball, for that matter, in search of approval. But they have taken a beating publicly and around baseball. Nobody understands why they have allowed a superstar to get away with shoving a team employee almost twice his age.
"If that was Derek Jeter and not Manny, would the Yankees have done anything?" asked one Sox player.
One Yankee player presented with the question said, "Derek Jeter wouldn't have done that. If he had, the players would have stepped in and there'd be no need for management to hand out punishment."
Who knows, maybe that's what happened in this case. If it didn't, the Sox set a bad precedent because Manny being Manny went too far.
Whose problems are worse?
We'll have a better idea after Sunday night.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.