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I'm Back, Baby

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The last time I was away from Athletics Nation for this long was a couple of years ago when my wife and I went to Italy and we found out that we were expecting our first child. Nothing that grandiose to report this time. Although I had the pleasure of sitting down yesterday with Billy Beane for one of our lengthy chats.

My goal is to get the interview done and posted by Monday morning next week. So this upcoming week should really start to get you primed for the 2007 season between FanFest and the AN Beane interview, you can practically hear the crack of the bat in the distance. Despite the fact that the A's went deeper in the playoffs than they have in the Beane regime, this has been a really long offseason. I'm eager to start talking about games instead of the potential of the rotation.

One of the things that I did on my vacation was read a book by Martin Brodeur, goalie of the New Jersey Devils. As many of you here know the Devils are my favorite hockey team and I follow them closely. But it got me to reflect on something about sports. Something that hit home as to why the Zito signing still ticks me off to this day. Brodeur is going to end his career with the New Jersey Devils after signing a contract well below "market value". He is also going to go down in hockey history as the greatest goalie to have ever played the position as he will likely wind up with more wins, shutouts and consecutive 30-plus win seasons of any goalie in NHL history. I'm talking about the position in sports that is more crucial than any other...yes, even more so than quarterback in football. No matter how good a quarterback is, he can't win a game without the help of an offensive line and receivers. A goalie in hockey can most assuredly steal games all by himself.

Yet, Brodeur's perspective on what he wants for his legacy in the game was much more important to him than going to unrestricted free agency and signing with the highest bidder. This is an excerpt from his book, Brodeur: Beyond the Crease:

It was a surprise to many in the hockey world when, in January 2006, at the age of 33, I signed a new six-year, $31.2 million contract with the New Jersey Devils, the only pro team for which I had ever played. I wasn't looking to move, and I wasn't looking to be paid more than any other goaltender in the game. I had been a part of the growth of the franchise, from one of the league's doormats to a three-time Stanley Cup champion, and I wanted to stay a part of it.

He goes on a little later:

Ever since I turned pro my objective has been to work with the organization to achieve success for myself and the team. That approach has paid off. It's why I own three gorgeous rings, two of gold and one of platinum, one for each of the Stanley Cups the Devils won in 1995, 2000 and 2003. ...It was never, at least for me, just about trying to get more money than somebody else. My objective is to play for a team that wins, not a team that will pay more than any other club but then can't go out and get other good players because of one expensive contract.

Why do I bring this up on a baseball blog? Well as I read these words I couldn't help but think of Zito...and Giambi...and even Miguel Tejada. The Zito signing wasn't really shock because everyone knew he was gone. But the truth of the matter is that Zito threw around a lot of quotes about wanting to win championships and then signed with a team that has a remote shot at the championship at best. And will likely only get worse from here on out.

I don't begrudge Zito for going to the highest bidder and hiring the biggest shark of an agent in sports. Heck, if I was in his shoes I would've probably done the same thing. It's human nature to try and cash in when you get the opportunity. But here's the thing. There were times when I was reading the book and my daughter came over and interrupted me by asking Papi to play choo choo with her or read her a book or be her caballo. I thought long and hard about the athletes I'd admired in the past and what kind of athletes I'd want my daughter to admire in the future. Usually I didn't care about the contracts they signed, but I realized that the values that Brodeur espouses in the first chapter of his book are ones that I truly do admire. Ones that seem to realize that there is a much bigger picture beyond how many more millions he can take from an organization. There's a legacy that will be attached to an athlete long after he is gone from the game. And realistically, if Zito was to offer to stay with the organization than groomed him for, say half of what the Giants are guaranteeing him, how would that have negatively impacted his life? I mean really when you're talking about $126 million versus $63 million is there really that much of a difference? You couldn't probably spend either amount in a lifetime if you tried. Yet Zito knows that the A's have been the second most winningest team since 2000 behind the Yankees. The A's have been in the playoffs five times and each time he had a shot at going to the World Series, none closer than last year.

I understand it's a business and these players need to do what's right for their family and themselves. But I've realized that if I'm truly going to admire one of these athletes as an individual beyond the game, it's going to take action like Brodeur's. He's with an organization that's dedicated to winning and in turn, he showed his loyalty by re-signing with the team that is going to help him build a legacy greater than the greatest names the sport has ever known. Brodeur will pass Roy, Sawchuk, Plante, Hall and all the rest to go down in hockey lore as the best that ever was. And he's going to do it because dollar signs weren't his first objective. He understands that he's getting enough money to support himself and several more generations of Brodeurs, even if the money isn't the most he could get. And they'll all hear about the legend that the Brodeur patriarch was for decades and possibly centuries to come. Zito? He could've possibly shared a similar fate by sticking with the A's at a big discount...but it probably will not happen in San Francisco. Instead of going down with Koufax, Drysdale, Hunter and even Dave Stewart, he's more likely headed for infamy with names like Hampton and Kevn Brown.

The bottom line is that I'm happy for Zito that he cashed in. I'll always have fond memories of him. But in terms of the guys who I most admire for their dedication to winning? Zito is no longer there. Oh and don't think I'm naive enough to believe that Beane might've even been able to offer half of the contract the Giants did. I understand the A's are on a tight budget, and Billy probably would've been the first to tell Zito to not sell himself short. But at the same time, it would've at least shown Zito's dedication to winning and the organization he was with by offering to sign an extension a while back. Instead he did just the opposite in dumping Tellem to sign with Boras.

When I look at my daughter in the future and tell her about the athletes I most admire and why, I'll have a good reason to tell her the name Brodeur. Guys who are dedicated to winning and their legacy over the almighty dollar. Guys who approach things from a big picture view and not just the bottom line.