Thursday, February 25, 2016

It's the new A-Rod! Again! This Arodologist looks at what was the biggest key to changing his image

A-Rod today at spring training.
I check Facebook's "On This Day" each morning to see what' I was doing on previous dates in Facebook. A year ago this week, especially today, I was writing about how the New York sports media was going nuts over Alex Rodriguez. Back then, pretty much every single question in spring training was about A-Rod, after he missed a season due to PED use.

What a difference a year makes. A-Rod is *a* story, but he's not *the* story. And when stories are about him, they are mostly positive, about how he is a beloved teammate, good player, fan favorite, talented broadcaster, and good businessman.

Case in point #1: Bob Nightengale's profile of him this week in USA Today, which might have been the most positive story ever written about Rodriguez.

Case in point #2: This headline in a New York Daily News story about how A-Rod should give some advice on handling the media: "Yankees' Alex Rodriguez can help Lonn Trost, Aroldis Chapman deal with media crises." Wait, what?

As an Arodologist who wrote about "The Redemption of A-Rod" for the Washington Post last June, even I am surprised at how complete his image has changed over the past year.

So what has made the difference? I have a number of theories as to why this has happened: He had a great season, he showed his love for the game with his excellent broadcasting, he got better advisors, he stopped saying dumb things, etc.

But here are the most important things he has going for him these days: groupthink, peer pressure, and Derek Jeter's retirement. Let me explain.

I always have said that there were a certain number of fans who loved Rodriguez no matter what, or hated him no matter what. And what really moves the needle are the ones in the middle. For a long time, it was cool to hate A-Rod. Now, that is no longer the case. The perception is that he did his time, has matured into an elder statemen, and is arguably the most important player on the team. Without him, they wouldn't have made the playoffs. Sure, there are still Yankee fans who can't stand him, but most like him now, and he has gotten the biggest cheers of anybody this spring. The groupthink and peer pressure (it's no longer cool to despise him) are finally working in his favor.

That also goes with the media. Granted, so many problems of A-Rod's were self-inflicted, but at the same time, too many people in the press made mountains out of molehills when it came to him. There seemed to be an unseemly piling on over the silliest of things. Now, most reporters have realized that he (shocker) is actually a great person to talk baseball with, and they pick his brains now for strategy. And they seem to have collectively gotten away from the snickering amongst themselves about him that they used to do. Now they're falling over themselves to write positive stories. Even this Arodologist couldn't have predicted that!

The other thing that is helping A-Rod out is Jeter's retirement. No longer do fans have to feel somehow disloyal to Jeter by liking Rodriguez. No longer do reporters try to curry favor with Jeter by slamming A-Rod. In addition, Alex had always talked to players behind the scenes and helped the younger players (fun fact: he has bought several sets of suits for each rookie since he joined the team), but now that Jeter is gone, he can be more of an open team leader and elder statesman. Now he's the veteran who contacts new players to welcome them to the team. Who'da thunk it?

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