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Schmidt: A-Rod was cursed once he got big contract

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Schmidt: A-Rod was cursed once he got big contract

There was a time when Alex Rodriguez was touted as the guy who could relieve us of Barry Bonds as the home run king. He was young, healthy and an MVP contender every year.

If anyone deserved $30 million a year, it was him. That's a stretch - ``deserve'' $30 million a year. Maybe discovering a cure for cancer, world hunger or global peace, but not playing baseball. Who's worth that number? Surely not a baseball player. Funny, Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise gets the same for a movie, no one raises an eyebrow.

No discussion about Alex Rodriguez can be complete without the subject of money. For an athlete who dedicates his life to his craft, the size of the paycheck is a major factor. No one has ever refused money or given money back. Athletes are entertainers, some ridiculously high-paid entertainers.

In a perfect world, entertainers would not be allowed to make more money than doctors, police officers or anybody whose work made a difference to society. Ours is not a perfect world, so things get out of balance. Something like a young super-athlete, who played baseball for an eccentric owner, in an era when expanded TV, media, Internet and general economic growth seemed evident, was part of a perfect storm.

Alex Rodriguez was cursed. At the time he had no idea, none of us did. That contract changed him and baseball and has been a burden to many. A burden under which he has to play, fans have to watch and baseball has to exist. Alex Rodriguez's career will never be appreciated.

Is the burden of money at the root of all of his problems? Alex Rodriguez, for all intents and purposes, is a good guy. His problem, at times, seems to be the perception that he comes off as insincere, insecure and even a bit fake. What mega-athlete doesn't have that side to their personality? I did. OK, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, just off the top of my head, but that's about where it ends.

LeBron, Kobe and Tiger, there's a quick three for comparison. But then the anti-A-Rod - Derek Jeter - still at a level where salary could be an issue, is beloved and respected by everyone. CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira also are on the Yankees and make over $20 million each, and they escape the daily wrath and scrutiny.

Is it money, personality or the combination that makes Alex so polarizing?

To make a point, two personal stories. After his first couple years as a teenage major league shortstop in Seattle, I met him before a golf event in Fort Lauderdale. I had retired several years earlier, he was just beginning his career, and I sensed a great respect as he addressed me as Mr. Schmidt. It made me feel old, but at the same time, he impressed me with his approach.

Fast forward to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in 2008 when he was one homer away from my 548 on the all-time home run chart. We were standing at third base, I was a little uncomfortable not knowing what to say, so I tried to make conversation by mentioning the home run list. He asked me if I was planning on being there to see him match me. It was sort of an aloof response to my question - to ask if I was planning on following him till he tied me was a little presumptuous and a blow to my ego. It came off as the exact opposite of our first meeting. This was 500 home runs and $200 million later in life.

I may be reading too much into these moments, Alex wouldn't even remember them. He was there to play the game, not carry on a conversation about home run records with me. Just the wrong choice of words in a stressful moment, that can happen.

Alex has a very high profile, tries so hard to be normal, and can't pull it off. No one making $30 million a year could. If he were a rock star, who'd care? He plays America's game in front of us for seven months. He can't hide.

The reason he is so polarizing lies right in this story. In him, we all see a guy who hit the sports lottery and we think, if it were us, life would be a bowl of cherries and it would be easy to be everything to everyone. If the tables were turned in that exchange at the All-Star game, I'd have said to him that I'd be honored if he were present when I tied and passed him, and I would send my jet to bring him there. Is that crazy?

So many people say to me that I came along in baseball 20 years too early. They say imagine what you'd make if you played today. My answer is simple and has two parts: I'd be Alex Rodriguez, and I'm glad I'm not.

We are alike in that we both were shortstops and moved to third base. We both hit home runs, produced runs, won Gold Gloves, won MVP awards and a World Series championship. Most of my career I was the highest or close to the highest-paid player in baseball. Over the last decade, and forever, it's him. We played under the highest pressure and expectations.

I may be one person who has walked in his shoes. Of course, it was Philadelphia, not New York. It was $2 million, not $30 million. And the world in which he lives is drastically different than mine. Make no mistake, few would qualify to be both highest paid in the game and 0 for 20 in a postseason.

I know what it's like to be right on the ball and miss it, and the few times you connect it's caught. Imagine in the ALCS opener against Detroit, bases loaded, if Alex's rope in the hole in the second inning was 6 inches to the left. He'd drive in two runs, the pressure is off and maybe none of this happens.

Instead, Jhonny Peralta dives and catches it for the third out, another failure in the clutch. In the 1983 World Series, I finished 1 for 20. But in my first two at-bats, I lined out to center field with men on base. Those balls find the gap and I'd go as far to say the Series outcome against Baltimore would have been different.

The postseason can be cruel, especially cruel to those hitters who are expected to produce and lead their teams. In baseball, players are supposed to be judged over an extended period, not a two-week postseason. Hitting comes and goes and never says goodbye. This time of year, the big, high-paid boys are supposed to hit, but most don't. Check it, there are more hitting stars who fail in postseason than succeed. Look at Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson - even worse than Alex, but who's making the headlines?

Imagine if he had never signed that contract, made a normal amount and never had a brush with performance-enhancing drugs. Imagine if there were no Internet, no Twitter or Facebook, only a couple newspapers and radio shows, and limited television exposure. Would he be today's Mickey Mantle?

But that's the reality, and because of it he has his $200 million and the pressure that comes with it. He signed on for this and now he faces challenges few if any ever have. I was never benched, never removed for a pinch hitter. The Phillies believed I was always one swing from changing a game and a series. Apparently, Joe Girardi didn't feel the same about Alex Rodriguez.

Alex seems to my eye to still be a fundamentally sound and potentially very productive hitter. Staying healthy at 37 is the issue. Age is a funny thing. I seemed to hit a wall in my late 30s. I can't explain it other than to say fastballs I used to hit a long way ended up on the warning track, nagging injuries increased, I didn't get to groundballs I used to eat up.

And as this happened, I began to doubt my ability. I had an excuse: I was old, so I retired. It happens to all of us. But in Alex's case when it does - if it isn't happening now - it won't be that easy. He will be making $30 million a year, guaranteed! For that kind of money, you aren't allowed to get old.

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Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and Alex Rodriguez have both won three MVP awards and a World Series title. Schmidt hit 548 home runs and was a 12-time All-Star; Rodriguez has 647 homers and is a 14-time All-Star.

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10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

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NBC Sports Washington

10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. We will get to the game, and we will get to many things done by the Wizards, but we begin with a moment from pregame. Apparently, it was Halloween costume night for the Blazers and Moe Harkless stole the show by dressing up as Tyrone Biggums from Chappelle's Show:

Adam Silver, if you're reading this, please institute a rule requiring every team to do a Halloween costume arrivals night. You owe us this.

2. Okay, now for the game. Kelly Oubre Jr. was one of the stars of the night with 22 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal.

Here is one of his first buckets, a shot off the glass that was not an easy one to get to go down:

3. In the first half, Bradley Beal picked up right where he left off last time he was in Portland when he dropped a career-high 51 points. He had 19 of his 25 total points in the first half, including this baseline drive after a nasty crossover:

4. Markieff Morris also had himself a night. He popped off for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and a career-high six threes. This was an athletic move around the rim you don't often see from Morris:

Was that some jelly from Keef? Not bad.

5. John Wall had a relatively quiet night for his standards with 16 points on 5-for-16 from the field with nine assists. Here was his best play, one of his signature chasedown blocks:

6. Back to Oubre. He was feeling it and even got Steve Buckhantz to drop a 'Tsunami Papi' reference on the broadcast:

For Buckhantz, as Oubre would say, "the wave is free."

7. Beal went cold in the third quarter, missing his first seven shots of the second half. But he got his groove back when the Wizards needed it most.

This three answered a go-ahead shot by Nik Stauskas and forced overtime:

Beal was super pumped:

8. Two of Morris' six threes came in overtime, including this one to help seal the victory. Morris knocked one down with only 38.5 seconds left and it put the Wizards up by four:

9. Wall helped put the Blazers down for good with a bank shot from the elbow. Some might say it was lucky, while others would say he called game:

Wall even had to hit the Blazers with a Jordan shrug. Portland has seen that before.

10. The Blazers had a chance in the final seconds, but Otto Porter Jr. put the finishing touches on the win with this block on Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater attempt. Though Porter didn't have huge numbers - he scored 16 points - his fingerprints were all over this win:

What an incredible game. We can all agree the Wizards and Blazers should play more often. Well, maybe not the Blazers. The Wizards have had a lot of fun at their expense in recent years.

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Five observations from Wizards' thrilling overtime win over the Blazers, including Markieff Morris' career night

Five observations from Wizards' thrilling overtime win over the Blazers, including Markieff Morris' career night

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Wild game, huge win: Though it was just the third game of the regular season, it felt like the Wizards needed this one. They had just lost their first two games to teams missing key players and battling through the second nights of back-to-backs. And up next is the defending-champion Warriors.

Lose this one and the Wizards could have put themselves in a very tough early season hole, but they rallied to overcome a sluggish offensive start to the second half to secure their first victory of the season.

Considering the alternative, this was about as important a win could be this early in the year.

Oubre showed some life: The shots finally started falling for Kelly Oubre Jr. After shooting just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 for three in his first two games, Oubre broke out with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 3-for-3 from three in this one. He also added six rebounds, a steal and a block.

To his credit, Oubre didn't force anything out of frustration after the way he started the season. He began the night by calmly knocking down a three from the slot, then attacking the rim for a shot off the glass a play later. Oubre was aggressive getting into the lane and scored with both hands.

This was, quite easily, Oubre's best performance so far in 2018-19, including the preseason. He was active deflecting the ball on defense and played controlled, intelligent basketball on offense. 

There were many plays he made that won't show up in the box score that helped lead the Wizards to their win; deflections, a huge charge taken in the final minutes of overtime. He was absolutely locked in.

Now, there were some lowlights. Oubre let several players get by him too easily, including Evan Turner and Jake Layman. Oubre has the tools to stay in front of those guys. But all in all, Oubre made a big difference in this game and that was good to see.

Morris balled out: While Oubre had his best game in the past few weeks, Markieff Morris may have had his best performance in a Wizards uniform. The Wizards forward exploded for 28 points in 25 minutes with nine rebounds, a block and a steal. He set a career-high with six threes made on 10 attempts.

Two of Morris' threes came in overtime, including one with 38.5 seconds left to put the Wizards up by four. His role in closing out the win in Portland brought back memories of his game-winner in the same building in March of 2017.

Morris is one of the biggest wild cards on the Wizards because it's not always clear which version of him they are going to get. When he's at his best, he's hitting outside shots and playing physical defense. He did that and more on Monday night.

With Dwight Howard out, the Wizards need Morris to step up. Though he didn't exactly do that in their first two games, Morris came to play in this one.

Beal went off early: This game was billed as the return of Bradley Beal to the Moda Center where he dropped a career-high 51 points last December. It took him a bit to get going, but once he did, Beal caught fire and scored at a pace that for a while was reminiscent of that amazing night.

Beal had 19 points in the first half on 8-for-12 from the field and 3-for-4 from three. But then he cooled off a bit in the second half and finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and one block. He had zero turnovers.

Beal has now scored at least 25 points in five straight games against the Blazers. Clearly, he likes playing in Portland but one reason for his success against them may deal with C.J. McCollum. 

Beyond the fact facing one of the best shooting guards in the NBA may bring the best out of him, Beal is a tough cover for McCollum because he's more athletic. He's a tick faster and can get higher on his jumpshot. 

McCollum is an underrated defender, but Beal kept him off balance with well-timed pump fakes and consistently got open off screens. Beal's points were mostly within the rhythm of the offense. He was moving consistently without the ball and using the smallest of separation to get his shots off.

Beal also deserves credit for his defense against McCollum. The Blazers star was limited to 13 points on 5-for-25 from the field and 1-for-9 from three. 

Damian Lillard also had a rough shooting night. He had 29 points, but on 7-for-21 from the field and 2-for-10 from three. Many of his points came at the free throw line where he went 13-for-15, 13 of his attempts in the first half.

Two centers are now hurt: The day began with head coach Scott Brooks sharing some bad news about Howard, who not only did not make the trip with the Wizards but is likely to miss at least several more games. Not too long into this game, they lost their backup center, too.

Ian Mahinmi was subbed out after getting two quick fouls and never returned. He went to the locker room to get treated with back spasms, leaving the Wizards perilously thin at the center position. They had to rely on Jason Smith and using forwards Markieff Morris and Jeff Green in small-ball lineups. Thomas Bryant still didn't get the nod.

Back spasms do not sound serious, but any time Mahinmi is unavailable puts a strain on the Wizards. It brings into focus the fact the Wizards have not one, but two roster spots currently vacant. 

 

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