teammate, "I think he ought to get his eyes checked. I'm not kidding. I
don't think he's seeing the ball."
And another: "I
honestly think he might be afraid of the ball."
Every clubhouse has
a unique current, like that of a river, with a temperature and a pace that can
be felt only by wading into it. The A's, taking their cue
manager Billy Beane's shorts and flip-flops, play as if it's Friday happy hour.
The Atlanta Braves, eschewing the clubhouse stereo, have a self-assured,
nine-to-five approach. The Yankees, the last baseball bastion in which beards
and individualism are verboten, foster a Prussian efficiency.
The old guard with
connections to New York's four championship seasons from 1996 to 2000-Torre,
Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada and outfielder Bernie
Williams-almost never talks about individual numbers because stats are
incidental to the team's mission: winning the World Series. Those title teams
talked about "passing the baton"-taking a walk or moving a runner over
out of confidence in and respect for the next hitter. Reliance on one another
is what mattered. That is still the covenant of the Yankees, though perhaps not
as sublimely executed.
One day last month,
wading into that current, I asked Rodriguez whom he has relied on most during
his difficult summer. He first mentioned Cynthia.
But to whom has he
turned on this Yankees team?
He looked down and
thought in silence. Ten seconds passed.
Finally he said,
"Rob Thomson." Thomson is the team's special-assignment coach who
throws batting practice.
Mariano is the best. Those three."