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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."
Watching a 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 frosty relationship.
Jackson likes 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.
"Yes," God 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 practice.
"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."