— Theirs is a marriage made possible by arrogance: From the Yankees, who believed he could easily fall in line with Ruth and Gehrig and the rest of the immortals, and from Alex Rodriguez, who already carried himself like one.
First they swung a trade for him, then gave him a gazillion bucks, all with the confidence A-Rod would leave a legacy that would last a decade.
Well, so far, they got a legacy, though not entirely the type they had in mind.
As for staying power, you must really begin to wonder if Rodriguez can ever give the Yankees a return on the money and hype gushed upon him.
This becomes a relevant issue today, as both the team and the player desperately seek a way to reclaim the glorious past, with few signs of that happening anytime soon, if ever.
Yankees: Aging core, championship-or-bust mentality, Red Sox envy, hot-cold pitching, empty premium seats.
A-Rod: Those postseason clunkers, that book, 34th birthday next month, steroid admission, tabloid tales, health concerns.
He’ll always be measured against the money, fair or not, because no ballplayer has ever commanded a pile as big. Just the same, he’ll also be compared to himself, because few human beings have done what A-Rod has on the field, mixing a combination of all-around hitting with decent enough fielding. His enormous talent, putting him in position for the riches and fame and also raising the bar to unrealistic heights, remains part blessing and curse.
A year ago, the Yankees bet 10 years and $275 million that A-Rod would retain his excellent track record for health and hitting, an investment that, like most made in this country lately, looks pretty grim in hindsight. They figured A-Rod would only add to the Yankee brand, but even he hasn’t found a way to convince folks to sucker up and pay a mint for those overpriced Yankee Stadium seats in this economy. They thought they could pencil him into the lineup card every day but that was ruled out by recent hip surgery. They knew A-Rod would ultimately align himself with other Yankee Hall of Famers but when that day comes, his steroid admission will be revisited, taking the shine off his induction.
They suspected he’d eventually stop being a postseason frog and finally reach a World Series. Good luck with that.
Finally, the Yankees had every reason to believe, no matter what, talent would pull A-Rod through, as always. And while only a fool believes A-Rod will never put up decent numbers again, his days of 50-plus homers and 150 RBI could be behind him as he reaches his mid-30s with a body that, for the first time, has betrayed him.
His recovery this season from surgery can be described as slow and alarming, and he could face an additional procedure this offseason. He’s battling the Mendoza line with his June batting average, going 1-for-25 and 0-for-16 in stretches and hasn’t given the Yankees much run insurance at the cleanup spot. The Yankees frantically decided to ration his playing time, ordering him to take a one-game furlough each week until the All-Star break.
“I want to get stronger each month,” said A-Rod, who disputes any notion of this being a lost year. “I think there’s a lot of good things to come.”
As always, in a Yankee culture that demands winning, the verdict for A-Rod for this and every season must wait until the fall, assuming the Yankees will be in the postseason and A-Rod will show up, neither of which are guarantees.
For better or worse, he and the Yankees are tied together for another eight years, which will either go by very quickly or drag to the very end. That depends on the number of World championships won, if any, and what kind of headlines he generates, because with A-Rod, it’s always something.
Amazingly, if Aaron Boone doesn’t get into a pickup basketball game five years ago, this marriage never happens. But when the 2003 AL Championship hero wrecked his knee, the Yankees had an opening at third base, and arrogance led them to seal a deal for the game’s greatest player, which seemed all the sweeter when a bid by the Red Sox fell through. A-Rod went to New York in a rich-get-richer vortex, making the Yankees more loved inside the Bronx, more despised outside it.
But he needed a pair of league MVP awards to warm up completely to Yankeeville, which still demands more from A-Rod in October than his 2005 and 2006 playoff clunkers. And no matter what happens from here, he’ll never join Derek Jeter in their hearts.
Plus, Red Sox fans are delighted with the delicious irony of being up 2-0 in World Championships since losing the A-Rod sweepstakes.
Sure, this could work itself out. He could get healthy, shatter all those Madonna and steroid stories with a few mighty swings of the bat and finally discover what victory champagne tastes like.
Over the next eight years, he’ll have his chances.
But do you like them?