I actually feel good for Alex Rodriguez this morning. I think.
He really is one of the more confusing figures to come along during my lifetime. On the one hand, he’s an absolutely brilliant player who has had some breathstreaking streaks and seasons. On the other hand he got caught cheating this past spring and then hid behind partial truths—blaming a cousin at one point for helping him acquire steroids, then claiming he didn’t really know what he was taking—and a refusal to answer direct questions.
He’s had some terrible postseasons and his off-field judgment has, at times, been really, really bad. Forget being seen in clubs with other women while he was still married, the announcement he was opting out of his Yankees contract during game four of The World Series in 2007 was absolutely brutal. If he wants to blame that one on Scott Boras—fine. Who hired Boras?
That said, he probably hasn’t done anything to deserve being pilloried the way he’s been pilloried by some although that comes with the territory in New York. No one is ever good in New York. You are either “absolutely great,”—a favorite saying of Yankees broadcaster John Sterling—or you absolutely suck—a favorite saying of anyone who has lived in New York for more than 15 minutes.
If the Yankees win one more game this season, many, if not most of Rodriguez’s sins will be forgiven in New York because he will have played a key role in delivering a World Series title. You will see the word redemption linked with his name a lot. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t a book next spring and the word redemption appears in the title.
The smartest description I’ve ever heard of Rodriguez came from Mike Mussina during the time I spent with him in 2007 researching, “Living on the Black.” Mussina was never one to pull a punch when you asked him a question and when I first asked him about Rodriguez, sitting in the living room of his home in Tampa during spring training, he smiled.
“Try to imagine this,” he said. “You’ve been told, with a good deal of justification, that you are the best baseball player of your era that, in fact, you might end up being the best baseball player of all time. Then you come to New York and you’re told this: ‘You might be the best player in the game today but you’re no Derek Jeter.’ No matter what he does he’s always going to be in Jete’s shadow. He can’t escape it. If he wins a World Series, Derek will have five. If he wins four, Derek will have eight. He’s like a little brother trying to be as old as his big brother. It isn’t going to happen.”
Think about that. Rodriguez’s ego is as big as it gets. I remember watching him in the Yankee clubhouse during that ’07 season and you could almost read the pain on his face when the media would surround Jeter and gobble up every word he said. Jeter is the kid everyone wants to be—and Rodriguez can hit 1,000 home runs and what Mussina says will always be true.
When Mussina talked about Rodriguez he always called him, ‘Rod.’ Never ‘A-Rod,’ and rarely Alex; almost always ‘Rod.’ One day, sitting in the dugout I asked Rodriguez if anyone else on the team called him, ‘Rod.’ He shook his head, smiled and said, “No, Moose is the only one. I think it’s because he knows I’m the only guy on the team who likes him.”
Mussina was as well-liked and respected as anyone in the clubhouse short of Jeter and perhaps Mariano Rivera. When I ran that line past him he shook his head and said, “Do you think it might be the other way around?”
I suspected he had that right although if the Yankees end up dumping champagne on one another either tonight or by the end of the week, we will be told by one and all how much all the Yankees love ‘Rod,’ and vice-versa.
One other thought on Rodriguez that has very little to do with him directly: Am I the only one who finds Sterling’s, “it’s an A-bomb by A-Rod,” home run call offensive? I really don’t mind all of his little sayings for home runs, its shtick, he knows it and most Yankee fans enjoy it. I wasn’t alive when the A-bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but I know the damage they did. I’ve also lived through all the fear that has gone hand-in-hand with the spread of nuclear arms and remember what the cold war was like.
Maybe I’m overreacting but I have to say I wince every time I hear that call. A ‘Tex message,” never killed anyone. A-bombs did.
The other night my son showed me my ‘Wikipedia.’ I have steered clear of looking at it ever since I first looked it up whenever it came into vogue a few years ago. I honestly don’t know who writes them and I gave up long ago on the notion I was ever going to get mine to focus on the fact that I’ve written 25 books—not the 23 they report—or that several of them are, well, pretty well known and were huge best-sellers. I’ve also never HEARD of The Chapin Report which I write for according to Wikipedia.
It DOES annoy me that the first sentence of my bio claims I’m best known for being wrong on the Duke lacrosse case. I’m not even going to go through that mine field again but I really don’t think I was wrong when I first said the kids should lose their scholarships if they didn’t cooperate with police (which they initially refused to do); then wondered how Mike Nifong could keep the case alive after all the DNA tests came back negative (he ended up being disbarred) and said when it was all over I thought they were probably guilty of everything but rape—as in stupidity, being out of control at parties long before the fateful night, shouting racial epithets that night and sending out hateful e-mails. Okay, I got into it and I know some of the pro-Duke folks out there will want to open the debate again: I don’t. It’s over, the players received millions of dollars in judgments (which they deserved) and so did Coach Mike Pressler who was the real martyr in the case.
It also says I was the subject of major controversy when I called for the abolition of the second amendment after Plaxico Burress shot himself. Major controversy? Lots of people disagreed with me, so what? Happens all the time and that wasn't the first time--by any stretch--I called for the abolition of the amendment, knowing full well it will never happen. THAT was a big moment in my career? I wouldn't put it in the top 100 to be honest.
What got me the other night and the reason my son showed it to me was an update that included my heart surgery. Whomever wrote it, quoted from my post-surgery appearance with my pal Mike Gastineau on KJR in Seattle. According to what was posted I “claimed,” to be a-symptomatic, and “claimed,” to have had an angiogram done because of one small black spot detected on a stress test.
Why the hell would I “claim,” any of that?
Here’s what’s most disturbing. My son said, “don’t worry dad, I can fix it.” Sure enough, an hour later, he had fixed it. What that tells me is that just about anyone can hack into the Wikipedia system. My ‘claim,’ would be that anyone using it as a research tool ought to be very careful.
By the way, kudos to Coach David Cutcliffe for winning five games in a season at Duke for the first time since 1994. It really doesn’t matter that the bottom of the ACC is awful this season, that’s real progress for a school that was a complete joke for most of the last 15 years. One warning for you Dukies who think the team is one game from being bowl eligible: It’s not so.
Because some genius in the athletic department decided to schedule North Carolina Central this year (not sure who made that call) before NCCU is officially a Division 1-AA team, that win doesn’t count towards bowl eligibility. Duke will have to win seven to play postseason.