Monday, April 09, 2007

Yankee For a Day

On Saturday, Alex Rodriguez did what NY Yankee fans say he never does. He came through in the clutch. I know that I wrote a few articles last year defending Arod and I didn't really want to get on the bandwagon again this year, but I felt it necessary to say a few words about the aforementioned Arod. The home run he hit on Saturday was his third walk off home run for the Yankees. It also happened to be the 2nd walk off grand slam of his career. I can only remember one other walk off grand slam in my entire 30 years of watching Yankee baseball and that was hit by Jason Giambi under even more dramatic conditions. In that game the Yankees had fallen behind the Twins by 3 runs in extra innings. Through a driving rainstorm, Giambi lost one into the night with the bases loaded for the Yankee victory.

That comeback happened early in Giambi's first season with the Yankees. He had been struggling up to that point and had to put up with lots of booing from the fans. I believe Michael Kay pointed out on Sunday that Giambi "became a Yankee" that night. I have no idea what that actually means, though. I thought you were pretty much a Yankees after you signed your contract and made the team out of spring training. But apparently I've been wrong all this time. You only become a "true" Yankee after being a part of a World Series winning team. That would leave out a whole host of Yankees that have become part of the team since 2000. Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Chein-ming Wang and of course, Arod himself. It would also leave out perhaps the most beloved Yankee of modern times, Don Mattingly. I guess if Arod isn't a real Yankee then neither is Donnie Baseball. Perhaps they should un-retire his number since he never led the Yankees to a World Series victory. Hell, they only made the playoffs once in the 13 years that he was on the team.

Alex Rodriguez has put up phenomenal numbers since he has been a Yankee. He's won an MVP award and has been the best hitting 3rd baseman in baseball. That is apparently not enough for the fans of the team though. They demand perfection from Arod. I guess he could view it as a compliment in a way. They think so highly of his skills that whenever he fails, they feel that he let them down. Almost as if he didn't really try very hard, because if he did try his hardest (like that Derek Jeter guy), he would get a hit every time. Arod is supposed to be Roy Hobbes. It's an unfair burden for any player to bear and especially one in a sport that bestows the label of greatness on a player who fails at his job seven out of ten times.

It was nice to see how excited Arod was after hitting that home run on Sunday. He was so excited that he missed the high five with his 3rd base coach. He was like a kid in a candy store. He came out for a curtain call and hugged each of his teammates at least twice. I would hate to think that this is going to be the highlight of the season for Arod, but it may very well be. He did hit another long home run on Sunday and kept the cheers coming for him, but it is just a matter of time before he fails in a big situation again. In fact, he popped up with the bases loaded in the 8th inning just the night before his grand slam. He certainly wasn't given any slack that night. Arod will fail again and the fans seem to have very short memories when it comes to Arod.

I guess being thought of as the best player in the game is a burden that he is going to have to live with. Unreasonable expectations are just par for the course. I'm sure Arod never asked for the title, but once it was given to him, he couldn't possibly live up to the expectations that were placed on him. In Texas he's hated because even though he averaged over 50 hr's a year there and won an MVP, he couldn't lift a bad team above mediocrity. In Seattle he's hated because even though he put together a string of seasons that were among the greatest ever for a shortstop, he left them for more money. He will probably leave NY after this season and the Yankee fans will hate him because he never lead them to the World Series. I would almost feel sorry for Arod if it wasn't for that $25 million dollars he brings home every year. Arod will probably never be able to fulfil his potential in the eyes of the fans.

Ted Williams was hated in Boston for much the same reason (plus he was surly and unapproachable). Ted is now considered by many to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. I'm not sure that Arod will ever be thought of in quite so lofty a manner, but when he retires, he may be the holder of every meaningful career batting record except for batting average. That may just have to be enough for him (that and about $400 million), because he's never going to have the love of the fans. Respect (begrudingly so) yes, love no.

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