A-Rod Misunderstood and Stuck in New York

In this day and age it’s not about what you did for someone five or ten years ago, but what you’re doing for them today. In this ever-changing, fast-pace society that we live in, one must produce in the present, or he/she will be replaced, and life moves on, simple as that.

This is seen every day in workplaces throughout the nation, and the concept also applies to baseball players, as one of the best to ever lace-them up found out the hard way. Steroids or not, Alex Rodriguez is a baseball giant, but after pulling yet another postseason disappearing-act he was replaced, and New Yorkers are ready to chase the former All-Star out of town with their pitch-forks and torches.

He looked so helpless at the plate; especially against right-handers that manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for him multiple times, and eventually relegated him to the bench. Girardi and General Manager Brian Cashman have always stood behind their embattled third-baseman, but his poor play, along with flirt-gate, turned him into a $114 million platoon-player, and national punch-line.

The clamor reached a fever-pitch last Wednesday, when he once again saw his name not in the lineup, and the Twitter-world began exploding with rumors of him being shipped home to Miami. The ludicrous idea of him going to Marlins for Heath Bell, only gained traction after political commentator Keith Olbermann, who is close to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, broke the news.

However, Bell was traded to the Diamondbacks on Saturday, and it would have consisted of the Yankees eating one of the largest contracts in professional sports, which isn’t happening. A maneuver that not even the late Boss, George Steinbrenner, would attempt to pull.

Yes, the Yankees are raking in money hand over fist, but this is just something that would be counterproductive. Not only would they have to eat between $80 and $100 million, but their best options to replace him via free-agency would be your pick of, Miguel Cairo, Mark DeRosa, Placido Polanco, or Scott Rolen. Also let’s not forget Rodriguez has a no-trade clause, and loves being Yankee, “I’ve never thought about going to another team,” he said after his team was swept by the Detroit Tigers

The ‘Bronx Bombers’collectivly looked like a shell of the team that hit a franchise record 245 home-runs in the regular season, and a large chunk of the blame was put on the shoulders of Rodriguez. He became a punching bag and poster-boy for the Yankee hitting woes, but the heavy criticism was somewhat unjust.

Hank Steinbrenner, the team’s co-chairperson agrees, “He was just one of quite a few that just had a bad time at the plate,” he said during a telephone interview on Friday with the Associated Press. ‘‘So is it fair to accuse him of everything but the Kennedy assassination? No, it’s not fair, but we’ll see what happens from this point on.’’

While everybody wants to assassinate Rodriguez’s career in pinstripes, the reality is their stuck with him, and probably until he’s a 42-year old man in 2017. Even Cashman conceited on Sunday in an interview with Ian O’Connor on ESPN New York 98.7 FM that he is, “99 percent certain,” Rodriguez will be Yankees’ starting third baseman in 2013, and that the idea of a trade is, “Unrealistic.”

Certainly he was part of the problem this October, going 3 for 25, with 12 whiffs. But he wasn’t the only culprit, as Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and his replacement Eric Chavez, combined for just 16 hits in 147 at-bats.

That said A-Rod didn’t deserve to shoulder all the criticism, team President Randy Levine said. “It’s unfair to single out one person,” he said on the phone on Thursday. “I think it was a total team and organizational disappointment. Alex is not responsible. No one player is responsible. The collapse was caused by no one person, and everyone needs to take responsibility.”

However those players made off on easy street, because fans and media alike focused their attention, and wrath on the aging Rodriguez. The funny thing is those same people were all begging for him to come back just last month, as the Yankees embarked on a crucial three-game series in Tampa Bay during the first week of September, with the division lead shrinking by the day.

Short memories, I guess. It must have also slipped them that A-Rod is no longer a spring chicken, and this season marked his 19th season in the bigs. There is a lot of mileage on him since coming up as a teenager in 1994 with the Mariners, and injuries haven’t helped.

During the last five seasons he has missed more than 200 games, as his pursuit of Barry Bond’s home-run record has been hampered by injuries to his hand, knee, hip, thumb, and wrist. The advancing age and slew of injures has definitely played a major role in his decline, and is a huge reason why he had his worst season in the league since his rookie-year.

Days before his 37th birthday he broke his left-hand after getting drilled by a Felix Hernandez changeup, and in his absence the Yankees struggled mightily, losing six games in the standings. The initial recovery was going to take between 6-8 weeks, and he made it back in seven.

With panic starting to set in, they rushed back one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, and immediately he was an upgrade over Andruw Jones, Steve Pearce, or Chavez in the cleanup spot. But, he barely got any rehab under his belt, going 0-7 in two games down in Tampa, and never appeared to really find his stroke.

After returning he hit to a line of .261/.341/.369, as compared to the 276/.358/.449, slash he had before going down. He seemingly came back and morphed into Cairo, with a .458 OPS against right-handers, which ranked 170th among 173 major leaguers.

Prior to the injury he didn’t have big numbers by any means, but was still an above average third-baseman, and appeared to be only gaining steam after his mammoth shot at Safeco Field. There’s no way he has fallen off this much, as the injury, and lack of rehab games absolutely tied into his late season swoon.

At this point he is like owning a banged up 1995 Chevy. There are a lot of miles, and it takes some extra time to warm-up nowadays. But the Yankees rolled the dice by starting his 37-year old engine up early, and he ended up breaking down before the finish line.

Of course the breakdowns could all be telltale signs of the aftereffects of PED usage, but every player has an expiration date, and Rodriguez is closer to the end than most recognize. I’m not saying he is done, but the reality is, he is no longer the dominant force he once was.

This season his 57 RBIs, .783 OPS, .430 Slugging, and 2.0 WAR were the worst he’s had since 1995. Meanwhile the 18 home-runs and .272 batting average were his second lowest totals since that same year.

But he played in only 122 games, also the second lowest since he was a 20-year old phenom. Because of this, there is hope that if healthy he still has enough talent to put up an .800 OPS, a figure which only seven qualified third-baseman reached this season.

People can’t hold him to the same sky-high expectations anymore, despite the fact he is the highest paid player in the game. But he also needs to understand that father-time is catching up, and he isn’t nearly the same player he was when he was 25 or even 32.

A source close to the Yankees recently told the Daily News that the thinking in the organization is, “What A-Rod has to come to grips with is the fact that he’s no longer a star, no longer the best player on the team. He has to decide: Is he willing to accept the fact that he’s a role player now — a role player who can still be a very useful part, hitting .270-.280 with 20-25 home runs or whatever — or does he want to be a celebrity?”

This may sound easy, but for someone who has always been the best at his craft, it is hard coming to that harsh reality. Nobody wants to admit their not as good anymore, but the years go by fast, and every great ball-player faces the inevitable quicker than they expected.

The truth is the first 647 homers come a lot easier than how the next 100 or so will come, and ideally he would like to hit at least another 116 longballs, which would move him past Bonds. Although becoming the all-time home run king doesn’t look like the lock it used to be, it’s doable, as he will need to average just over 23 homers a season from now until the last year of his contract.

That pace would keep him as an above-average third-baseman, and useful member of the Yankees. The 14-time All-Star has to come grasp that this is the player he now is. The source said the feeling among the Yankees is, “If he gets his arms around that, he can still be very, very good.”

The whole turn of events had to have been eating at him, and I’m sure he is determined more than ever to silence his critics, and come into camp ready to go. He surely sounded that way after the season ended Thursday, saying, “”I will be back. I have a lot to prove and I will come back on a mission.”

Yankees fans must give him a fair chance, and clean slate heading into spring training, not only because he is not going anywhere, but also because he is a Yankee icon. Like him, or hate him, he has been wearing his pinstripes for nine seasons already, and other than Jeter, or Rivera he is the longest tenured player on the Yankees. Not to mention over the years in the Bronx he has amassed 302 homers, trailing only the Mount Rushmore of Yankees; Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Berra.

Yes it’s hard to feel bad for a guy who has made the more money playing the game than anyone else. Who has admitted PED use. And who is often times more worried about his own image, or in getting a phone number from a blonde behind the dugout.

Plenty of people hate him, and they have their right. But behind the dark-cloud that follows him, is a baseball junkie who just wants to win, and do well. He reminds me of the comic-book supervillain Two-face. One side is the evil-pretty boy persona that people identify him with, and the other is a baseball-nerd, who loves the game.

In April when talking to ESPN New York he said,” I’ve always been a baseball nerd, that’s for sure. The guys, they make fun of me all the time because I’m always doing some goofy Plyometrics stuff or I’m watching film or I’ve always been a gym rat. They tell me all the time, ‘Al? Just go home.'”

Say what you want about steroids, but this dedication has played a major role in the gargantuan stats he’s accumulated during his 19 big league seasons. But that was all in the past, and if Donald Trump was in charge of the Yankees he would have already been given his pink-slip, and been given a big thank-you.

They say, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” and this ties right into the polarizing Rodriguez. Even though the quote pertains to comic book superheroes, he was supernatural in his own way on the baseball diamond over the years, and was the best in the game was a long time.

However he is no longer the face of baseball, or a super-hero who hit’s 50 homers, and knocks in over 130 runs. But he is an aging legend caught in an identity crisis. It remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank, but it’s almost certain New Yorkers will have five more years of him.

He will probably outlast Jeter, and be one of the last remaining relics of the steroid-era when he finally hangs up his spikes after twenty-four big league seasons. So instead of hating him, or holding onto the pipe-dream of him being traded, root for him and enjoy the last few years of watching  one of the most talented, and fascinating men to ever wear a big league uniform.

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