I reminded him
that Jeter's words carry the most weight. "Mariano said good things [about
me]. Joe said good things. [G.M. Brian] Cashman said great things,"
Rodriguez said. "But again, people want to focus on Jeet. Jeet's very quiet
by nature, so I wouldn't want him to change who he is to come and defend me.
Because I'm a grown man."
Yankees-Angels game in Anaheim from a television booth, Jackson noticed
Rodriguez (the number-two hitter that day) and Jeter (batting third) near the
on-deck circle with their backs to each other. "Classic Ruth-and-Gehrig
picture right there," said Jackson, referring to the legends and their
Rodriguez, recognizes in him the same need for ego massaging that he had as a
player. Jackson took him to dinner last month-yet another intervention-and
described how bad he had it as a Yankee. Jackson talked about when his
teammates left notes in his locker telling him that they didn't want him in New
York; about how manager Billy Martin so beat it into his head that he was a bad
defensive player that on the night Jackson hit three home runs in the 1977
World Series, he played a routine double into a triple because he'd been
stricken with fear that he'd screw it up; about when he was in the midst of
such a horrific strikeout streak that he pleaded to Detroit Tigers catcher
Lance Parrish, "Tell me what's coming, and I promise I'll take a turn right
back into the dugout no matter where I hit it. I just want to look like a pro a
little bit." ( Parrish replied, "F-- you"; Jackson, to his immense
satisfaction, grounded out.)
During the game,
Jackson told a parable to make a point about Rodriguez. A man is trapped in his
house as floodwaters rise. Twice he refuses help, once from rescuers in a boat
and then, when the man seeks refuge on his roof, from rescuers in a helicopter.
"No, thanks," the man says. "I've got faith." The next thing he
knows he is face-to-face with God in heaven.
"But I put my
faith in you!" the man cried.
replied, "and I answered your faith and tried to help you twice."
As Jackson spoke,
Rodriguez whiffed yet again, this time on a pitch that bounced on the grass in
front of home plate. How does a player with so much talent get so bad? It
seemed ages ago, but Rodriguez was the American League Player of the Month for
May, when he batted .330 with eight homers and 28 RBIs. Then he lost the
natural groove and quickness in his stroke. A crisis of confidence befell him
when he could not hit the ball out of the park to right centerfield in batting
"BP is a big
key for me," Rodriguez said. "And you don't know how devastating it is
to hit a ball you think you got squarely and see it die on the warning track.
Out of 40 swings in BP, I should hit 22 out of the park. I was hitting three
out of 40. I couldn't hit a fastball. Eighty-nine, 90 [mph pitches] were going
right past me, and I knew it."
Trying to catch up
to fastballs, he started guessing and began his swing early, lunging at the
ball with his hips drifting forward, creating a flaw that robbed him of even
more power-or worse, flailing embarrassingly at what turned out to be a slider.
Then as he carried the anxiety into the field, his usually reliable glove began
to fail him.
"He puts in
the work before games and looks textbook out there," third base coach Larry
Bowa said last month. "But all of a sudden the game starts, and he quits
using his feet and he's fielding with a lazy lower half. That causes his arm to
drop, and the ball sails on him."