Since EVERYBODY is talking about the Tom Verducci piece just out in Sports Illustrated, I suppose I have to say something. (And, note to self: why the hell did I just pay for a subscription to SI when a) they are going to post their major stories for free on their website and b) I’m still waiting for the issue that everyone’s talking about?).
Deadspin put it well in its banner on the subject yesterday: A-Rod Is Moody, Aloof And Weird. REALLY. Like Deadspin, I don’t really see what the big deal is. Watching ESPN’s three networks last night, you’d think the pope had just been shot. And, this is, in a way, proves at least one of Arod’s points: that no player in sports, save perhaps TO, gets anything like the scrutiny that Arod does.
In any event, the foregoing is a short compendium of some of the commentary worth commenting on.
John Kruk, on Baseball Tonight last night, astutely responded to Arod’s lament that perhaps he is under so much scrutiny because he’s good looking, bi-racial, makes the most money and plays on the highest profile team. As Kruk pointed out, every single one of those things is true of Derek Jeter (who, endorsements included, actually made slightly more than Arod in 2005). So, strike one, Alex.
Several commentators, including George Vecsey in the New York Times, and the guys at Dead spin, as well as WFAN’s Steve Somers, expressed surprised that Jason Giambi emerged in the story as a no-nonsense clubhouse leader, demanding performance and a focus on team priorities from Arod. As Vecsey notes, this “prodigal son” had a quite recent, and dramatic fall, from grace. But, says Vecsey, Giambi’s (sort of) confession, and his production at key moments (his two homeruns in the fourth game of the sweep at Fenway where arguably the season back-breakers), has endeared him to Jeter, and ensured his place as a key Yankee.
Speaking of Somers, he still can’t get off the fact that Arod took his shirt off in Central Park a few weeks ago. Not all criticisms of Arod are created equal. That remains one of the stupidest I have ever heard directed at any sports figure.
Also on BBTN, Tino Martinez kept repeating the phrase: “Alex needs to be himself.” Now, what’s become clear is the degree to which the players themselves think that Arod is a phony in some sense. But, Giambi had probably the most insightful comment in the whole Verducci piece, when he said “Arod doesn’t know who he is anymore.” This is probably not a recent phenomenon – there is a hole in Arod’s sense of himself that surely has a long persona history. So, telling Arod to be himself may be entirely beside the point.
Everyone seems to have bristled at Arod’s invoking other players’ bad performances – he noted Jeter’s 0-32 slump in 2004, Reggie hitting .230 one year, Mariano having blown three saves in a row at one point. Arod’s not the first guy to do this, of course. And, saying that this constitutes “throwing his teammates under the bus,” oft-repeated in the past twenty four hours to characterize Arod’s invoking of other people’s slumps, is hyperbolic. But, he happens to have mentioned three people who have multiple world championship rings to their credit.
And, in the end of the day, that’s really the issue, as many people have pointed out. If Arod has a big postseason and the Yanks win a title, it won’t make him a more or less likeable guy, and it won’t change fundamentally whatever it is that constitutes his emotional make-up. All it would do is to sever the perceived link between character and clutch performance. Anybody who knows anything about Reggie Jackson knows that it’s silly to assume that the two things necessarily go together. (And, if you look back at the way people used to talk about Roger Clemens when he first joined the Yankees, and before he had won his first world series title, you will find a remarkably similar discussion to the one we hear now about Arod).
The SI article has proven one thing – it’s not that Arod never says anything unscripted that gets him into hot water, since he said many unscripted things in the article, all of which have gone over very badly. It’s more fundamental than that – something about him deeply alienates other people. Personally, given that Arod has apparently never done anything bad to anyone, I have some sympathy for him. As Vecsey put it, Arod is not a bad person. Ironically, the problem with Arod may be that beneath the perfectly coiffed exterior is a relatable guy – doubtful, insecure, easily hurt. These are qualities we see all around us, including in ourselves, all the time. It’s just that our hero-athletes are supposed to be immune to such emotions. In that sense, Arod fails the test of being larger than life – he’s sometimes emotionally small like so many of us. And, that appears to be an unforgivable sin in our sporting culture.