Let’s talk about a big market baseball team that acquired a superstar in his prime. I won’t refer to the star by name and I will focus on some facts of how have the years with this star have unfolded.
Take a high profile team like say, oh I don’t know, the Yankees. Coming off of a run where they won six pennants in eight years, they needed a positive jolt after stunningly losing a pair of superstars. They pried the reigning MVP loose and kept him from the hated Red Sox.
To give the superstar a spot in the lineup, he agreed to move positions in deference to the popular but defensively inferior incumbent captain of the team.
Along the way this superstar put up some huge regular season numbers. He practically won the first playoff series he played with the Yankees single handedly. Had their impervious closer not blown a 9th inning lead in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, the superstar would have been remembered for his .395 average and 1.228 post season OPS (and homering in Game 4.)
The Superstar won the MVP in his second year in the Bronx, a season where the Yankees would have missed the post season without his performance. Two years later he earned a second AL MVP as a Yankee, in each year crushing walk off homers and making clutch plays.
Two years after that, the Superstar put on a power display in the playoffs that led the Yankees to their first World Series title in 9 seasons. He not only slammed 6 post season homers en route to the Babe Ruth Award for the playoff’s most valuable player, but did so in dramatic fashion. Twice he homered off of the other team’s closer to tie games where the Yankees were on the brink of defeat. He also slapped key hits in the World Series, helping the Yankees unseat the defending champion Phillies.
For fans of traditional stats, the Superstar became the 6th most prodigious home run hitter in Yankee history, trailing only legendary names like Ruth, Mantle, Berra, DiMaggio and Gehrig. And he reached those numbers in far fewer seasons than any of them other than Joltin’ Joe.
For Sabermetric fans, the Superstar tallied the 12th highest WAR total in Yankee history, with only current and future Hall of Famers and one Yankee captain ahead of him.
At the box office, the Superstar’s arrival led to packed stands unlike any era in Yankee history. Forget Murderer’s Row, Casey’s Boys, The Bronx Zoo or Joe Torre’s revered champs. The nine best seasons of Yankee attendance history were all AFTER the arrival of this Superstar, a player who has delivered in every way a star possibly can.
Of course the Superstar I am referring to is Alex Rodriguez.
A-Rod is a player so vilified that many Yankee fans simply want him to go away and think the front office should eat the remaining $65 million of his contract. A-Rod is so universally hated that the press treats him like a piñata, opposing fans delight at his misfortune and even other players openly take potshots at him.
No fanbase in the world has embraced him. If A Rod were released, it is possible that he would remain unsigned.
Why is that? Why will Alex Rodriguez’s return from a season long suspension be preceded by a humiliating wave of apologies to the Yankee front office? Why are his pronouncements of wanting to come back, play and even take the field treated with such ridicule and scorn?
I am no Alex Rodriguez fan. But the manner where the dog piling never stops has become surreal.
Even the vilified Barry Bonds, who pumped himself up and claimed every home run record with the social graces of Biff from Back to the Future, threw out the first pitch at a post season game in AT&T Park and rode with the Giants to great cheers in their recent three World Series parades.
Even Manny Ramirez, whose inexcusable behavior, diva act and Gilligan like stupidity on the field, was given a standing ovation when he returned for the 2004 reunion at Fenway Park.
And yet there is Alex who is hated. Why?
Don’t bring up steroids. Hatred of Rodriguez predates the revelation of steroid use by almost a decade. Plus juicers like David Ortiz and Andy Pettitte are treated as beloved champions by their fan base. Matt Williams, featured in the Mitchell Report, won Manager of the Year. BALCO customer Gary Sheffield is a TBS commentator. PED user and former A-Rod teammate Melky Cabrera has signed two multimillion dollar contracts since his 2012 suspension.
And forget about calling him a selfish diva. As noted above, A Rod switched positions in order to let Jeter remain at shortstop. Shouldn’t the “all he cares about is winning” captain Jeter have been the one to yield to the superior shortstop when A-Rod arrived? And was A-Rod any more of a selfish player than Core Four member Jorge Posada, who pouted and asked out of the lineup when Girardi dropped him to 9th (while batting sub .200)? Or beloved pot bellied David Wells, whose lack of conditioning may have cost the Yankees game 5 of the 2003 World Series?
I refuse to believe it is about the money. The Yankees throw money around like they are Rodney Dangerfield at the Bushwood pro shop. And the beloved Core members of the team never seemed to take hometown discounts to stick around. In fact Bernie Williams almost jumped ship to the Red Sox before the Yankees anted up and Andy Pettitte left for Houston. Even Saint Derek Jeter sulked when the Yankees did not automatically give him an extension after a subpar year. Then against no other bidders, they gave him a raise anyway.
Could it be because A Rod was an unfaithful husband? I would hate to think that someone cheating on their wife would spoil the reputation of a franchise than honors such good husbands as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
And please don’t bring up his opting out of his contract during the 2007 World Series. Yeah, that was awkward. But in terms of athletes misbehaving, we have lived through Aaron Hernandez, Michael Vick and Ray Rice recently. I think we can get over a strange cutaway to Ken Rosenthal during a game at Coors Field.
Alex Rodriguez has delivered on the field. He has delivered at the box office with turnstiles spinning. He has delivered with a World Series title, the only Yankee ring since Derek Jeter was named captain. The one title Alex Rodriguez matches the total number of New York championships won by Tom Seaver, Joe Namath, Mark Messier and Michael Strahan.
And as A rod apologizes to the front office, lest we forget he has also provided a marvelous scapegoat to the failures of General Manager Brian Cashman and the sons of George Steinbrenner.
When George died in 2010, the Yankees were the defending champions. As the sixth season since the last Yankees title begins in a few months, the heirs of King George’s throne have seen the team sink from champs to dull also rans and will probably miss the post season for the third straight year despite a bloated payroll.
Big ticket free agents have bombed or fell to injury. The farm system failed to replenish the roster with stars as the 2000’s champs faded away. Two home grown All Stars, Robinson Cano and David Robertson, left the team for greener pastures.
And if the 2015 team squad fails to make the post season, the Yankees won’t have the sentimental distraction of their three previous dark Octobers. 2008 was the final year of Yankee Stadium. 2013 was the farewell to Mariano Rivera. Last season was the never ending Derek Jeter good bye. What will the diversion of 2015 be? Booing Alex Rodriguez!
With the turnstiles spinning, TV revenue coming in by the wheel barrow and merchandise flying off the shelves during the A-Rod era, I do not believe the Yankees have returned any of the money earned since 2003.
Maybe it is the combination of all that I mentioned above that make Yankee fans resent him. It all seems irrational to me. I for one would love to imagine A-Rod entering the Yankee front office, take one good look at Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner’s sons, and say “YOU ARE WELCOME!”