Tim Dahlberg: A-Rod poker probe shouldn't be his biggest worry

The big news coming out of Florida is Alex Rodriguez has started taking batting practice, and is eager to start playing once again. Word is he should be on the field for the Yankees in the next week or so, though they seem to have done just fine without him.

Not that Rodriguez is terribly concerned about being Wally Pipped. Eric Chavez has been filling in nicely for him lately, but A-Rod is making $31 million this year and is guaranteed another $143 million over the next six years. He'll be playing third base for a long time, even as his power numbers continue their seemingly inexorable decline.

The other news about A-Rod wasn't quite as good, though you have to consider the source. In this case it was Star magazine, reporting that the slugger liked to play in high-stakes poker games with Hollywood celebrities. At one of those games, it was reported, a fight broke out, and at another there were other people around who were using cocaine.

That means Rodriguez will be talking to the commissioner's office again, somewhat of a regular occurrence in recent years. Along with it will almost surely come another warning — like the one he got in 2005 — to stay away from big money card games.

And that's where it should end. Because, as alleged transgressions go, this one doesn't even make A-Rod's personal top-10 list.


Yes, playing poker for big money may technically be illegal in most parts, but last time I checked there are not a lot of police working overtime to bust neighborhood games. Besides, hasn't ESPN made a legitimate sport of high-stakes poker already, televising matches where millions of dollars are at stake?

Bust A-Rod as a steroid user who has disgraced the game if you want. Look at him more closely because he was treated by a Canadian doctor who recently pleaded guilty to charges that include bringing human growth hormone into the United States.

But don't waste time going after him for enjoying a Friday night card game with his A-list friends.

Before you think I've gotten soft on A-Rod, nothing could be further from the truth. To me he really is A-Fraud, a supremely talented player who felt it necessary to chemically alter his body so he could get the untold riches the Rangers and Yankees threw at him.

I find the fact he's chasing the most hallowed record in baseball distasteful. The day he catches Henry Aaron (the legitimate home run record holder) will be a dark one for baseball, no matter how much they celebrate at Yankee Stadium.

And I don't care a lot for his attitude of entitlement, which doesn't sit well with the rest of us who won't earn hundreds of millions to play a child's game.

But any speculation about a possible suspension for playing poker is ridiculous. That's especially true since none of the reports about the games A-Rod attended — all based on anonymous sources, by the way — make any claim that he was involved in any fights or was doing any cocaine.

Indeed, A-Rod's biggest crime might be that he plays for stakes higher than you do at your buddy's house. Way higher, but he's making $31 million a year so he can afford a few bad beats.


A-Rod's publicist claimed the Star's story contained "numerous factual inaccuracies" and said the slugger looked forward to cooperating with major league investigators looking into the matter. Rodriguez himself isn't talking and cut short a session with reporters on Thursday in Florida when asked about it.

Really, though, what does he have to talk about? The time Matt Damon filled out a full house on the last card to beat his three aces? The laughs he got from his card playing buddies when he told them that he, not Derek Jeter, is the real captain of the Yankees?

Rodriguez, meanwhile, is expected back in the lineup within the next week or so for the first time since having right knee surgery July 14. There's no question the Yankees want him back, despite going 18-8 entering Sunday's game against the Red Sox in his absence.

But he's clearly a player in decline, no longer a huge power threat and nowhere near as dominating as he was just a few years back. Rodriguez has only 13 home runs this season, and unless he finds a miraculous power surge in the final two months of the season will hit the fewest home runs since his rookie season with the Seattle Mariners.

He's got things to worry about, yes. But the fact he likes to play poker shouldn't be one of them.

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