By John Donovan
January 20, 2005

The biggest trade in baseball's long history of big trades, the whopper of all whoppers, the mother of all mega-deals, collapsed Thursday evening in a pile of contractual mumbo jumbo.

But hold on. The nonsense may not be over yet.

Alex Rodriguez's trade to the Boston Red Sox for Manny Ramirez is not going to happen -- at least for the time being -- because the mighty and powerful baseball players' union doesn't want it to happen. Not like this. The union doesn't want the largest contract ever finagled -- A-Rod's $252 million deal -- compromised just because everyone else wants the trade to happen.

So the union blocked the deal on Wednesday, and the two sides couldn't rework the contract in time to beat a deadline imposed by commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday, and so Selig scuttled the talks, and then the Red Sox called the whole deal "dead." And that's where we are. For now.

Oh, brother. Haven't we been here before? I mean, how many ways can baseball come up with to look stupid? Every year, it's something new.

This time, it's this proposed titanic trade, something that was sketchy from the start and one that, right now, makes a loser out of just about everyone involved.

Rodriguez wanted so badly to leave Texas and move to Boston that he lobbied for the deal and was willing, in effect, to give up $30 million of his record contract. For now, he's stuck with the Rangers, where many of his teammates already have said the team would be better off without him. A-Rod's a loser right now, no doubt about it. As much as someone with a quarter of a billion dollars can be a loser.

The Rangers had a chance to get out from under A-Rod's onerous contract and actually buy some pitching to help all their young sluggers. Now -- for this moment -- they can't. Which means they won't win. Which makes them losers, too. Again.

Tom Hicks, the Rangers' owner, might have rewritten one of the biggest bonehead moves in the history of ownership if this trade would have happened. True, Hicks would have had to take on Ramirez to do it. But, all in all, the owner figured it was worth it, and it probably was. Because the trade's not going to happen -- for now -- Hicks remains one of the sport's, and one of baseballs' biggest losers.

Theo Epstein, the young, brainy general manager of the Red Sox, makes the first major slip of his career in this, too. Epstein pulled off a coup in trading for Curt Schilling. He signed closer Keith Foulke and reportedly had another trade worked up for Chicago White Sox slugger Magglio Ordonez if the A-Rod trade went through. Maybe, if the A-Rod trade happens, Epstein is a star. But already, Epstein has shown that he's willing to buy the biggest contract in the history of sports and throw in a few million more. He's willing to cast aside Nomar Garciaparra, his All-Star shortstop. He's traded youth for age. For what? To keep up with the Yankees. And they call New York the Evil Empire?

The Red Sox, too, come out looking bad. If the deal for A-Rod is dead, the Red Sox could be stuck with a shortstop that they clearly were ready to jettison after the 2004 season. If the deal isn't dead, the Red Sox could have more than $50 million tied up in A-Rod, Foulke, Schilling and Ordonez next year. That's trouble brewing.

There are lots of other losers. For a player who has driven in at least 100 runs in each of the past six seasons, and no fewer than 33 homers a year in each of those seasons, Ramirez now has all the appeal of a sweaty jock. Stay or go, this guy's reputation, never very good, has taken a huge hit. Loser? Yeah. And a sad one at that.

The head of the players' union, Gene Orza, stepped in where no one wanted him to step -- and I mean no one. (Don't buy A-Rod's lukewarm late-game backing of the chief. He had to say that to save face with the union and his fellow players.) Granted, if contracts are allowed to be reworked left and right, contracts, large and small, won't hold a lot of weight. But everyone wanted this deal done. Right or wrong, Orza's a bad guy in this.

Selig stopped negotiations Thursday evening, saying the thing had gone too far and swallowed up too many in its wake. He's right, of course. But, heck, Selig is used to being on loser lists. So here you go, Bud.

The shortest stick of all, though, may go to Garciaparra. Yeah, he missed his chance, turning down an offer of a four-year, $60 million contract extension before last season. If he had signed that, all of this would be moot. But Nomar doesn't deserve this. He has a .323 lifetime average. He plays hard. He plays hurt. He actually wants to be in Boston. He's an All-Star. And this is how he's treated? He may be the biggest loser in this whole, ridiculous story, except for ...

Major League Baseball. This trade eventually may come off -- many say it will -- because all the rich ballplayers and executives and, yes, even some union officials want it to come off. But to Joe Q. Fan, this looks like simply the latest, greatest case of ballplayers and owners haggling over millions.

Dead or alive, this whale of a trade idea has turned into another baseball fiasco. If this trade wasn't worth so much -- it would be the first ever of two $20 million players -- you'd have to think that it's simply not worth it. For anybody.

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