A-Rod's underappreciated greatness (cont.)
The irony, of course, is that Rodriguez has managed to look vulnerable, even foolish, despite his best efforts to control his every gesture on the field. The signature play of his postseason career is an effete slap. When he turned macho and got into a fight with Jason Varitek, he ended up on book covers getting his face mashed by a catcher's mitt.
For Torre, the ultimate compliment a player can receive is when a teammate congratulates him on his effort even if he's in a slump. But Rodriguez tries to do everything, all the time. "Unfortunately," Torre says, "there are times when he's bigger than the game and he likes that."
But it is Rodriguez's great talent that distances him from even other great players. The ball jumps off his bat and travels farther for him than it does for them. He can make the game look easy. In the famous July 2004 game against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, Rodriguez turned a brilliant double play in the ninth inning with no one out and the bases load. The play saved the game, yet it happened so quickly that it was easy to overlook how difficult it was. And it was all but forgotten after Jeter's valiant headlong dive into the stands a short time later.
Arnold Hano once wrote of Willie Mays, "There he is, and there you are, and unless you're Hemingway, you understand the distance between you." But Mays gave fans the feeling of greatness realized, intellectually, athletically and aesthetically. Rodriguez does not. "Mays is simply above statistics," continued Hano. "There is a quality about his skill that defies the grinding camera or the tape measure."
For all his accomplishments, the general feeling in New York is that Rodriguez is somehow worth less than his gaudy statistics. That is not entirely fair, but there is something to it, as well. It brings to mind something Satchel Paige once said: "When folks get it in their heads that a fellow has got big feet, soon the feet start looking big."
Rodriguez has also shown a capacity for self-deception. In a Sports Illustrated article written by Verducci in 2006, Rodriguez's unwillingness to admit to a prolonged slump alarmed his teammates. Giambi finally approached Torre and said that something had to be done. That Torre would allow Verducci to write about the incident revealed as much about Torre as it did about Rodriguez, yet it is clear that it represented a dramatic shift from how business was conducted during the Paul O'Neill-Tino Martinez years.
This week Rodriguez could have capitalized on the early negative reaction to "Joe's bitter book," as the Daily News described it, and maybe even gained a measure of sympathy. Instead the papers were filled with quotes from his friends saying how little he would be upset by the book. Meanwhile, Rodriguez wasn't talking. Is he truly unconcerned with what has been written about him or is he just living in his own little bubble?
And will it matter? Will it impact his performance on the field? That seems unlikely. But Rodriguez could have come out with a classy "no-comment" and scored some points with the public, something he seems to greatly desire.
It is foolish to think that he has been the reason why the Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2000. After a terrific opening playoff series against the Twins in '04, Rodriguez has not hit well in the postseason, bit he didn't flop in his two playoff starts like Randy Johnson, or spit the bit in Game 7 like Kevin Brown. Yet he gets the blame. And he'll continue to be that guy until he has a good playoff run or unless he stays healthy long enough to approach the all-time home run record. If Rodriguez can endure, if he can outlast Jeter, he may eventually be embraced in New York.
Baker says, "I find him unlikable, but can anybody say that they think the Yankees wouldn't have won all those World Series in the '90s if they had him and not Scott Brosius playing third base?"