COMMENTARY | With Monday's bombshell that third baseman Alex Rodriguez will need hip surgery for the second time in four years (this time, it will be on the left one after he had the right hip repaired in 2009), it would appear that the New York Yankees are suddenly in the market for third-base help.
Yes, that would be the same Kevin Youkilis who once made a living killing Yankee pitching as a member of the Boston Red Sox from 2004 through early last season. In his career, Youkilis is a .300/.432/.483 hitter in 442 career plate appearances against New York, with 13 homers and 66 RBI. The .915 OPS he's accumulated is also gaudy.
Youkilis was a key player in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry of the early 21st century. He was certainly enough of a factor in that rivalry that Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter told ESPN.com's Buster Olney that "he couldn't imagine the Red Sox without Youkils."
That tweet from Olney came just a few days before Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox last summer.
As odd as it is to consider the idea of Youkilis in pinstripes, it's not inconceivable. In the age of free agency, rivalries are much more about the fans than the players. For the players, it's more about finding a job where they can get the most benefit (read: money and playing time) and not necessarily about loyalty to an organization.
Let's face it; loyalty in sports is a myth, anyway. Babe Ruth gave the New York Yankees 15 tremendous seasons. His reward was an unconditional release after hitting "only" .288/.448/.537 with 22 homers and 84 RBI as a 39-year-old in 1934.
The San Francisco Giants traded Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. The Brooklyn Dodgers tried to trade Jackie Robinson to the hated Giants (Robinson opted to retire rather than change addresses). Players such as Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn, stars who play with one franchise and leave basically on their own terms, are the exception, not the rule-and they always have been.
But free agency puts any notion of loyalty on either side of the player-management equation to rest. Johnny Damon helped the Red Sox win a World Series in 2004. Two years later, he was cutting his hair and playing for the Yankees.
Wade Boggs had a Hall of Fame career with the Red Sox in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, he signed as a free agent with New York.
There have been players go the other direction, as well.
Fans want to believe that players changing sides in rivalries is a new phenomenon brought on by a generation of "me-first" athletes with no loyalty. The myth is that such loyalty ever existed in the first place because the ugly reality is that it didn't.
Phil Watson was a writer and editor at several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is a long-time New York Yankee fan.
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