And yet A-Rod routinely is treated like the guy in the dunk tank at the county fair, even, most incriminating of all, by his peers. In the past two years he's been called out by Boston pitcher Curt Schilling ("bush league"), Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon ("He can't stand up to Jeter in my book, or Bernie Williams or Posada"), Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen ("hypocrite") and New York Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca (who accused him on the field of showing up the Mets by admiring a home run too long).
"One thing people don't like," said one teammate, "is his body language. Too much of what he does on the field looks ... scripted."
I asked Rodriguez why criticism of him from inside and outside the game is so amplified. "We know why," he said.
The contract? That 10-year, $252 million deal that no one has come close to matching for six years? He nodded.
"But I don't expect people to feel sorry for me," he said. "My teammates get more upset about the criticism and booing than I do. A hundred players have come to third base and said, 'This is bulls--. You're having a great year.' You wonder why it bothers players so much. Tim Salmon, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Garret Anderson ... I could throw you a hundred names. They're looking at the scoreboard and saying, 'This guy's got 90 RBIs and I've got 47, and I'm getting cheered?'
"My agent, Scott Boras, was talking about [ Oakland third baseman] Eric Chavez, who's a great player. He's hitting .235. He's got 16 home runs, 43 ribbies? This guy is getting cheered every time he comes up to the plate. If I can look back on 2006 and see I made 25 errors, hit .285 and drove in 125, I mean, has God really been that bad to me?"
Alex doesn't know who he is," Giambi said in late August. "We're going to find out who he is in the next couple of months." � October is the foundry of Yankees legend. It's why Scott Brosius will never have to buy another meal in New York, though the third baseman was a career .257 hitter, including .245 with a dreadful .278 on-base percentage in the playoffs. But Brosius had a couple of huge hits, and the Yankees were 11-1 in postseason series with him.
For all his career achievements, Rodriguez cannot become a made Yankee without a memorable October. He won the AL MVP award last year, but what stuck to him was his 2-for-15 showing in a Division Series loss to the Angels. It reinforced his disappearance during New York's historic 2004 ALCS collapse to Boston. Until Game 4 of that series, Rodriguez had hit .372 and slugged .640 in 22 career postseason games. But since then he has hit .125 (4 for 32) and slugged .250 while the Yankees have gone 2-7. It's unfair, of course, but to find real acceptance in New York, Rodriguez must win a ring as a Yankee.
Not that A-Rod believes he has all that much that needs to be redeemed this season. His extreme slump-not his word, of course-that peaked in Anaheim didn't seem so bad to him. "Reggie hit .230 one year," Rodriguez said. "That's awful. He struck out 170-something times in a year. I don't care who you are, extremes are just part of the game. I was awful [in Anaheim], but Jeter was 0 for 32 [in 2004], Mo blew three games in one week [last year].... Everybody goes through it."
Rodriguez isn't the only Yankee who needs a good October. When he looks around the clubhouse, he sees more teammates who have never won a title in New York than those who have. And thanks to the Rangers' picking up $67 million of the money left on his contract when he was traded to New York, Rodriguez can find three players in the same room to whom the Yankees are paying more this year-Jeter ($21 million), Giambi ($19 million) and righthander Mike Mussina ($19 million)-and a fourth, lefthander Randy Johnson, to whom they pay an equal amount ($16 million). Next year the Yankees will pay outfielder Bobby Abreu ($17.5 million) more than Rodriguez, making A-Rod a veritable bargain. I point out all of this to Rodriguez early this month as we walk underneath the first base stands at Yankee Stadium toward the indoor batting cage.