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Yanks' pursuit of Manny echoes A-Rod saga

December 18, 2018

In January of 2004, a little over three months after Aaron Boone had hit one of the most famous home runs in the history of the old Yankee Stadium -- bottom of the 11th, Game 7, American League Championship Series -- he was playing in a pick-up basketball game at

In January of 2004, a little over three months after Aaron Boone had hit one of the most famous home runs in the history of the old Yankee Stadium -- bottom of the 11th, Game 7, American League Championship Series -- he was playing in a pick-up basketball game at a local health club in Newport Beach, Calif. One of Boone's teammates saved a loose ball and Boone was running to catch up with it when a guy on the other team collided with his left knee.
When he told the story last spring, Boone referred to the guy who ran into him -- can't make this up -- as "Johnny Hustle."
It's what Manny Machado said he wasn't during the 2018 postseason, when he was still playing for the Dodgers. That's the same Machado, now a free agent, who is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with the Yankees, now managed by -- oh, you bet -- Aaron Boone.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
• The latest Machado free-agent rumors
Boone got hit by "Johnny Hustle" and his left knee exploded in that moment. He would eventually require ACL surgery. Just like that a Yankee team that had just made it to the World Series, even if they'd lost in a huge upset to the Marlins, didn't have a third baseman.
You know what happened after that. The Yankees made a trade for Alex Rodriguez, who would later become a mentor in Miami to young Machado. In the process, they absorbed the last seven years of the $252 million contract Rodriguez -- a shortstop at the time the way Machado is a shortstop now -- had originally signed with the Rangers.
It was the biggest contract in American team sports at the time. At the end of it in New York, and way before Rodriguez was caught up in a PED scandal, the Yankees signed him to an even bigger contract to stay in New York, $275 million for 10 more years.

As he and the Yankees came to the end of that deal, we heard a lot in New York about how the Yankees couldn't wait to get out from under a ridiculously long and ridiculously expensive contract, even though the Yankees had voluntarily given it to Rodriguez (after he opted out of his original deal during the '07 World Series). The Red Sox won that Series, sweeping the Rockies. It was the second of the four they have won in this century. The only one the Yankees won with Rodriguez -- No. 13, Machado's number -- playing for them came in 2009.
So now, here we are. Machado is looking for a new team, and a long-term and expensive contract of his own. The Yankees have a need at shortstop, now that Didi Gregorius, a pretty wonderful player and the guy who was supposed to be the Yankees' shortstop for a long time, got hurt at the end of last season and has now undergone Tommy John surgery in '18 the way Boone, his manager, underwent ACL surgery in '04.
All this time later, one of the things that Machado will be asked to discuss by the Yankees is the comment he famously did make about himself last October, one he's been trying to explain away ever since:
"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."
And, who knows, maybe he will give such good answers and it will be such a love fest at Yankee Stadium that the Yankees will give him the kind of expensive, long-term contract that Rodriguez had when they traded for him, and the kind of contract they happily gave Alex Rodriguez three years later.
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And you know who is on record as thinking that the Yankees and the new No. 13 might be a really good fit? The old No. 13, Alex Rodriguez himself, who said this to the New York Post not long ago:
"I haven't had a chance to talk to Hal [Steinbrenner] or [Brian] Cashman, but I know ownership is as hungry as ever to put a great product and winner on the field. And he's a great player."
So was Rodriguez. Back in '04, the Yankees were going to add a star like him to their infield and they were going to win a lot of World Series and play in even more. They played in one.
Doesn't mean Machado isn't a great player. He fits a Yankees need even though they always wanted Bryce Harper more, at least until they took on the kind of contract with Giancarlo Stanton they once did with Rodriguez. And you know everything changes with the Yankees when they have a need and there's a star available.
By the way? Machado's "Johnny Hustle" comment came out in a story written by Ken Rosenthal on October 16. It happened to be 15 years, exactly, after Aaron Boone hit his home run against the Red Sox. Now there's at least a chance that the new Johnny Hustle will come play for him. Everything connected. Maybe more than ever with the New York Yankees.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.