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A-Rod Revisited

By Guest Contributor Brad Harris
October 5, 2006


Rodriguez Revisited

Had William Shakespeare been a baseball fan, he might have penned the following words:

 

O, beware my lord, of jealousy!

It is the pinstriped monster which doth mock

The meat it feeds on.

 

Why do Yankee fans boo Alex Rodriguez?The simplest answer is because theyíre spoiled and donít like to share their success with anyone else.Having the second-best shortstop of this generation isnít enough, just like winning 27 World Series isnít enough.Of course, the simple answer isnít enough to justify my name on the byline.

 

Three years ago, George Steinbrenner one-upped the boys in Beantown by stealing Alex Rodriguez out from under John Henryís nose.The Yankees even got him at the bargain price $16 million per year.In the rush to steal Bostonís thunder, the Yankee front office forgot that they already had a $20 million per year all-star shortstop.And their shortstop, Derek Jeter, was the poster boy for the most recent Yankees dynasty.Heck, the team hadnít missed the post-season Ė and still hasnít - since before Jeter donned pinstripes.So the question of where to put Rodriguez came as something of an afterthought.All they knew was that best player in the league wasnít going to replace the team captain.Not even if A-Rod was sitting one home run shy of the career home run record for shortstops.

 

Over the past three years, third baseman Alex Rodriguez has batted .299/.396/.549, averaging a contribution of 10 wins to the Yankees over each of the past three seasons.Jeter?Heís had three of the best years of his career, primarily because his defense has gone from horrible to above average.Jeter has long been a punching bag for the sabermetric community when discussing the relative merits of fielding statistics.Itís not that his detractors donít like him personally, but that the numbers simply bear out that Jeter isnít the fielding wiz Yankee fans believe him to be.A similar criticism has risen of Jeterís reputation as a ďclutchĒ hitter over the years.By comparison, many of the same people criticizing Jeter on these points have long claimed that Alex Rodriguez was the best player in the league.If youíre a Yankee fan, few things approach apostasy closer than that.

 

Is there really any legitimate criticism of A-Rod, though?How about blaming the Yankeesí post-season failures in 2004 and 2005 on Rodriguez?Nope.Canít do that.A-Rod batted .277/.390/.508 in the 16 games the Yankees played during the past two post-seasons.Jeter?Almost the same at .271/.346/.429. A-Rod had more runs, more extra base hits, more walks and more total bases in fewer plate appearances.Additionally, A-Rod was the de facto MVP of the 2004 ALDS.Blaming Rodriguez for the lack of World Series victories these past two years is both fallacious and insincere.

 

Jeter may win this yearís AL MVP Award, but A-Rod won it last year.So what if he had a few throwing errors this season?To hear Yankee fans drone on, youíd think A-Rod is the second coming of Chuck Knoblauch.While his defense has gone from gold-glove caliber at short to below average at third, A-Rod continues to out-hit Jeter season after season and this year was no different.

 

Would Yankee fans rather have Alfonso Soriano back?I hope not.Despite his career year in Washington this season, Soriano has contributed just two-thirds the wins that Jeter has to their respective teams the past three seasons.Rodriguezís advantage here was more pronounced Ė double Sorianoís value Ė in the first two years since the trade.Now that Soriano is a left fielder, though, who do you think will have the greater long term value to their team?But to hear the critics this year, youíd think they wished that trade had never been made.

 

In New York, players face extremely high expectations, true.But itís A-Rodís defenders who, over the years, have stirred up the ire of Yankee fans against him.One thing you absolutely do not do in New York is poke holes at pinstriped idols.In New York, Jeter is held in the same breath as names like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson, and Mattingly.Heís a Yankee Legend.And Jeter and A-Rod have been compared to each other ever since they both debuted in 1995.A-Rod was the better player, but Jeter won the hardware.And Yankee fans wouldnít let you forget it.As if Jeter was somehow morally superior because his teammates gave him more plate appearances in October.Iíve never read where a Jeter critic has called him a bad player, and there are very few people who would suggest heís not also a future Hall of Famer.But that doesnít seem to be enough for supporters of ďMr. November.Ē

 

Today, Jeter has four rings while A-Rod still lusts for his first.But Rodriguez is the greatest shortstop of his era, arguably the best in history; he owns two MVP Awards to prove it.Yankee fans were insulted by the idea of A-Rod replacing their beloved Jeter at short, which is exactly what should have happened when they acquired him.Jeter could have played second base or center field.Instead they wasted a gold-glove caliber shortstop at third base.Whatís easier to find on the free agent market?A third or second baseman who can hit well?(One hint, Yankee fans: itís the one who doesnít play up the middle.)The decision made to put A-Rod at third was not a baseball decision; it was a personnel decision.Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and Joe Torre chose symbolism over substance.

 

The Yankees will never be A-Rodís team, no matter how well he plays or what records he breaks.Why?Because no matter what A-Rod does, he canít be Derek Jeter.Notice I didnít say he couldnít be a better player than Jeter Ė he has been all along Ė but that he couldnít be Derek Jeter.Itís Mission: Impossible for the American Leagueís best player.Iíve got news for you, Alex.Despite what the writers and broadcasters have been telling you, this isnít about you at all.Thereís nothing else you need to do to prove yourself.In fact thereís nothing you can do to prove yourself to these people.They simply canít be satisfied.

 

Not only will everything that A-Rod accomplishes in New York be dissected under intense public scrutiny, fans will always begrudge him the fact that heís been (favorably) compared to their beloved team captain.For that, heíll never truly be a Yankee.He may perform better.He may win more accolades outside New York.But heíll never really be one of them.Heíll never be a Yankee.And thatís precisely the point.

 

None of this is about Alex Rodriguez.Itís about Yankee fans.Itís about their harbored illusion that the face of their franchise is the greatest shortstop of his generation.This isnít about A-Rod at all.Itís about the insecurity of people who cheer on the most accomplished team in professional sports.

 

So itís not that Rodriguez had a poor showing in the field this year.Itís not that Jeter had a career year and could possibly win his first MVP (and you know Yankee fans will be rabid if he doesnít).Itís not that Rodriguez isnít an all-star caliber hitter.Itís not that Rodriguez has a quarter-billion dollar contract.Alex Rodriguez is being judged, not for what he is Ė a future Hall of Famer in the prime of his career Ė but for what he isnít: Derek Jeter.




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