Friday, May 8, 2015

Note to Yankee brass: When A-Rod outclasses you, perhaps you have gone too far

I had insomnia this evening, woke up in the middle of the night, and put on the replay of the Yankee game, just to see Alex Rodriguez's home run (I missed seeing it live, as I was out running.) Not only was it a game-winner homer against the Baltimore Orioles, but A-Rod got loud cheers, a standing ovation and even a curtain call. Hitting #661, as it turns out, even got mention on Yankee Stadium's big screen. Hmmmm. And the Yankees are still claiming that he is unmarketable? Puh-lease.

Anyhow, New York sportswriters are writing not just about the homer, and the win, but about the massive support A-Rod is getting from Yankee fans. The New York Daily News' John Harper wrote about all of the cheers A-Rod received last night, calling the "affection" even "more remarkable than his comeback itself."
Yes, A-Rod always longed for this type of love from Yankee fans, and it’s a bit odd that he’s finally the People’s Choice after being suspended all of last season for his use of PEDs. These fans loved nothing more than to boo A-Rod, except for the 2009 postseason and a few big-game performances here and there. Now, it’s almost as if with Jeter in retirement, they don’t feel guilty about cheering the anti-Jeter.
As an Arodologist (and Arodapologist!) over the years, I think A-Rod got more cheers than Harper is acknowledging. Even in the worst days, he always had some fans. But I do think Jeter's absence has something to do with this. The media no longer has to worry about kissing Jeter's tuchis by avoiding running anything positive about A-Rod. And Alex's teammates themselves no longer have to worry about offending the captain, either. (Newsflash: I don't think Rodriguez only became a good teammate in 2015! I think it's just that now that Jeter is gone, A-Rod can be treated as an elder statesman on the Yankees by both his teammates and the media.)

But Harper, like Joe Girardi, thinks Rodriguez's popularity now is only due to him hitting well again, and says "I doubt it" when positing that the fans are cheering Rodriguez to stick it to Yankees' ownership about their pettiness regarding fighting the milestone issue. I disagree with that, and instead agree with ESPN New York's Wally Matthews' (yes!) take on the issue. In an article entitled "Alex Rodriguez the winner in dispute with Yankees," he writes:
Whether it's right or wrong -- and again, only the Yankees, A-Rod and his representatives really know how the contract is written and if he has any claim to the money -- the fan perception seems to be that the Yankees have behaved badly in this matter, that their actions were forged in greed and are now colored by vindictiveness. They see Rodriguez as the victim here, even with his $275 million contract and a potential $30 million more tacked on simply for doing what he is already being paid to do, which is hit home runs.
But as we know, perception is reality, and if the fans perceive A-Rod is being bullied by the big, bad Yankees, that is going to be a tough perception to shake. And as long as Rodriguez continues to hit the way he's hitting -- his seven home runs, 18 RBI and .883 OPS are second on the team to Mark Teixeira's 10, 25 and .951 -- there's no way Hal Steinbrenner, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman stand a chance of reversing the tide.
Add in the fact that A-Rod has refused to be dragged into the mud -- he has yet to take a verbal misstep, despite plenty of bait -- and you've got a clear win for a player who, about a year ago, had some very respected baseball writers saying that he would never step on a big league ball field again.
In closing, Matthews says that  Rodriguez is "more than welcome" at Yankee Stadium: "He owns the place." He adds, "Not only have the Yankees succeeded in making Rodriguez popular again, they have even managed to make him something no one could ever have believed he could be. Sympathetic."

Um, Wally, I am raising my hand here. I believed this could happen! I am frequently wrong on stuff, -- for example, the Yankees are playing much better this year than I thought they would -- but I totally called that the A-Rod accolades would happen. This spring, when I was interviewed, along with other Yankee bloggers, by my friend and colleague Daniel Shoptaw, most of the bloggers were pessimistic on A-Rod's chances in 2015. Not me! Here is what I wrote then:

I am actually pretty optimistic about A-Rod, given his glorious spring so far. He seems in a good place, both mentally and physically. He has handled all of the hubbub about his return much better than expected. And remember that his 2013 OPS in just a month and a half of a season was still better than the entire team’s was in 2014. Another thing Alex has going for him is the soft bigotry of low expectations. All he needs to do is be halfway decent, stay halfway healthy, and not embarrass himself, and many fans will be on this side. There is a real “sticking it to the man” edge to rooting for Rodriguez this year, given how much the media and the Yankees management despise him. The irony is that the team’s biggest marketing asset, as far as putting fannies in the seats and getting people to tune in, is the very person they are claiming they can no longer market in their refusal to pay those home run milestone incentives.
Yet despite the fact that Rodriguez is clearly the Yankees' most popular player, they are still claiming that he isn't marketable. How petty. How sad. How short-sighted. Matthews is right -- A-Rod has won the battle. And he will win the war over 660, too. Pay the man already!

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