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Now I Hold My Crotch Cause I'm Top Notch
2008-05-30 18:58
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Yesterday I quoted a passage from Roger Angell about Reggie Jackson. Angell wrote that no matter what Reggie Jackson did at the plate--make a weak out, get a single or hit a home run--it was "full value." I feel the same way about Alex Rodriguez in a way that I haven't for any player since probably Reggie himself. At the very least, I don't know that I've craved full value from a player more than anyone since Reggie. It's an infantile reaction yet one that is also based on an adult's appreciation of greatness.

At some point in my twenties I really started appreciating great players simply for being great. Players that I might have found a reason to despise as a kid--because I didn't like their name or the way they looked--I became resigned to appreciating. It's as if there was an invisible line in my mind and after a guy surpassed it and reached a certain level of excellence it was my responsibility to admire them first and foremost. Everything else was about my petty hang-ups. Unless of course I thought he was a mook because of something I knew about him off-the-field, like he beat his wife or something like that.

It's not that Rodriguez necessarily provides full value in all of his at-bats, it's that we demand it from him and when he fails it has a weight that seperates him from other players, even other great players. It's the money, the looks and the talent. I've seen Rodriguez in the locker room and he has the self-possessed narcissicm of an elite model. He knows you want to stare at him. He looks like Superman and he's pretty too. He almost glows. But most of all, it is the blinding talent. The pursuit of something perfect. I love the drama of that. That a strikeout or a failure to drive in a runner from second seems bigger, deeper with Rodriguez.

I derive full value from his at bats because of the expectations I place on them. For me, each of his at-bats holds the promise of getting to watch one of the great all time players do something great. It's like sheer sensation. Rodriguez's swing was mentioned as one of the finest thing in sports in a terrific thread over at YankeefanvsSox fan on Friday that was sparked by Mark Lamster's appreciation of Mariano Rivera.

Just standing in the box, he looks like the ulitimate hitter. He's greater than Reggie Jackson and yet lacks the thing that made Jackson great, separated him from the other great players, the thing that has made Jeter great. But there is value in watching Rodriguez fail because he is playing for immortality.

On Friday night against Glen Perkins, the Twins' young left-hander, Rodriguez provided full value in each of his first three at-bats. Early during his first time up Rodriguez ripped a ball foul down the left field line. His swing was so quick, he hit it so hard that he smiled as he got back in the box. (According to Michael Kay, Rodriguez had put on a show during bp.) He worked the count and then smashed a line drive right at the shortstop, knocking him two steps back. Rodriguez's swing was perfect and when he bounced out of his follow-through, he stood erect as if to punctuate just how hard he had just struck the ball. It was the move of a Roman emperor, regal, arrogant, justified. Even in making an out, Rodriguez had won.

In his next at bat, Rodriguez worked the count and then drilled a liner to left for an RBI single. He stood up again after his follow through. At first I was a little taken aback, thinking he might have had a chance at a double if he had been running instead of admiring. But after seeing the replay, his display, while no less cocky, was understandable because he knew that he had hit the ball too hard get a double. The next time up, Rodriguez crushed a line drive over the centerfielder's head for an RBI double and drove Perkins from the game. But the at bat was such a pleasure to watch--Rodriguez locked in, laying off the weak stuff, getting good hacks at the rest, even the few that he swung through--that the outcome seemed secondary.

He was grazed by the second pitch the next time up and hit a high pop fly that dropped in front of a diving Carlos Gomez for a hustle double in the ninth.

In addition to Rodriguez, Abreu had three hits including two triples. Melky had three hits, and Hideki Matsui continued to deliver. He's on such a hot streak that it seems as if his every blooper and bleeder drives in a run. The Yanks had 16 hits in all. Mike Mussina was hurt by Shelley Duncan's error in the first which led to four runs, but he didn't completely lose it, went six, and improved his record to 8-4. Farmadooke gave up an eighth inning solo shot to Justin Morneau which closed a Yankee lead to 6-5, before Mariano Rivera closed the door in the ninth.

Mike Lamb swung at the first pitch Rivera threw him, cracked his bat, and softly lined the ball at Rivera's feet. The sound of the ball coming off the bat was piteful. Brendan Harris got in two good hacks, worked the count full and then took a cutter, low on the inside corner for ball four. A pitch Rivera usually gets. Gomez fouled off the second pitch from Rivera and broke his bat. He lunged and fouled off a cutter, outside, and then waved at another one, further outside, for strike three.

"School is in session," said Ken Singleton on the YES broadcast.

Pinch-hitter Craig Monroe took a called strike on the outside corner then laid off a fastball, high. He swung late and through another cutter and ended the game looking down as a pee at the knees crossed the outside corner. Precision. Artistry. Something close to perfection.

Yanks 6, Twins 5.

Comments
2008-05-30 21:18:27
1.   weeping for brunnhilde
A particularly beautiful post, Alex, even by your standards.

"It was the move of a Roman emperor, regal, arrogant, justified."

Perfect.

As to Mo, I just can't believe how good he is. Like a dream, I sometimes can't believe my eyes. The fact that here he is, still going, still coming set in that flawless, liquid way of his, hitting spots, impressing me.

How can we still be so impressed by him even though we've been watching him for more than a decade?

And yet, still, sometimes I feel like pinching myself.

What will we do without him?

2008-05-30 22:22:54
2.   Strike4
The Roman reference is apt. And maybe his self obsession would be better tempered if, like the emperors, he had a voice at his back whispering in his ear, "Look behind you; remember you are but a man."
2008-05-30 22:40:36
3.   Humma Kavula
My favorite thing about Baseball Toaster is how each of the writers seems to raise one another's game. It's like each of you is (are?) The Beatles listening to "Pet Sounds" and knowing what you have to do.

This was a very, very well-written post.

2008-05-30 23:10:01
4.   tommyl
0 Great, great, great post Alex. Just wonderful prose. Thanks for writing it.
2008-05-31 00:10:26
5.   Max
I was out this evening at a friend's birthday party...unusual in that this particular group of people were not especially sports-crazy. Only one mention of the Celtics game and no baseball mentions, which is extremely rare for a gathering of people in New England. I actually enjoyed it, and didn't even sneak a peek at my phone to check scores. Just hanging and talking with friends about life.

Got home late to catch up on the happenings, and am so glad that this is the last thing I'm reading before I retire. Guess sports still means something in the big picture. :-) What a beautiful piece of writing.

And I did love that thread on Rivera and Mo and the comparison of athletes to dancers and contemporary artists on YF vs SF as well. Thanks Alex.

2008-05-31 03:29:02
6.   Knuckles
Alex, if I still subscribed to a newspaper, this post would cause me to cancel my subscription, because it simply reinforces the fact that, box scores aside, Bronx Banter is all the Yankee commentary I ever need.

Fantastic post.

2008-05-31 05:35:05
7.   OldYanksFan
Really nice writing Alex. I admit I respected Reggie but was not a fan because of how he behaved in Thurman's house. And of course, I worshipped Mantle who to me, is the epitome of a Godlike ballplayer, flaws and all.

And I am a big ARod fan, and you are correct that it is hard to not demand greatness from him. But as I read your eloquent prose, I can't help but think of the white elephant in the room. I don't know what God would look like with a bat in his hand, but I think it would have to look like Barry in 2001 and 2004. He of the 1.421 OPS. He who was not mortal.

Manny, ARod, Albert... the best of the best, but little leaguers compared to Bonds. I know he is tainted, a cheater.... but give ARod, Reggie, whomever, steroids on their morning cereal, a steroids enema and a steroids transfusion, and I still don't think they approach Barry.

It is a terrible loss that because of his PED use, we can not revel in his legend. In 2001, to watch pitchers not pitch to him... to see game after game, where in 5 ABs, he might be thrown 2 strikes, and then to see one of those strikes land in the stands. It was fantasy. Beyond expectation.

I am a diehard, lifetime Yankee's fan. I'm not really a baseball fan in that I love baseball, but it's boring to me unless the Yankee's are playing it. I look at stats, but I don't really follow players that are not Yankees. And I have a hard time when there is talk of greatness if Mickey isn't mentioned.

Bit late 2001... Barry... a whole other universe. The score didn't matter. The game didn't matter. The players on the field didn't matter 'cept for 2 men... Barry and the pitcher. And the only question was could the pitcher escape unscathed... could he beat Barry.

Watching his last month of ABs was other worldly. He transcended the game. You can watch the replays, know what the outcome is, and still be amazed. His ability to take the nastiest pitches and not even flinch. Not his hands, or elbows, or knees. He was a stutue or he was launching the ball. There was little inbetween. You could somtimes beat Barry, but you could almost never fool him. His ability to read pitches separated him from everyone in the game.

We can't know what part PEDS played in the saga. I will guess they helped... kept him in the game longer. But what he did was Godlike, and I don't think steroids can make a man a God.

The ABs he had in the last 2 weeks of the 2001 season? I don't think will will ever witness anything like that again.

2008-05-31 06:05:52
8.   Raf
0 Wow... just... wow. Great piece of writing.

6 I wish newspapers were as well written.

7 It's a shame things turned out the way they did, but it wont stop me from looking back on Bonds career with amazement.

2008-05-31 07:12:39
9.   doslobo38
I agree that this is a good piece of writing. On a slightly different point is it just my imagination or does Bobby Abreu just not get the respect he deserves in the national press. I am watching Sportscenter on ESPN and in a game where Bobby goes 3 for 4 with 2 triples, 4 runs and his 300 career stolen base he is hardly mentioned. I realize A-Rod had a great game too but c'mon ESPN show Bobby some love guys!
2008-05-31 07:17:47
10.   joe in boston
Great post Alex. I can't keep up with all these posts/threads/blogs !
2008-05-31 10:13:14
11.   horace-clarke-era
Enjoyed this one a lot, Alex, thank you. I'm amused by the riff in 2 on Rome and the slave behind the Emperor whispering ... because it has elsewhere been noted that Alex Rodriguez's problem in some ways is the opposite: he's wanted too much to be liked, has FAILED to essentially say, 'I'm the man, the best, make what you want of it.' This came up here on the banter, last week I think.

In other words, we have another example of the polarizing effect of 'greatness' ... do we want him being more cocky, or accepting humility? Case has been made both ways right here!

I am with 'our' Alex in noting that A Rod seems to bring out a 'hoping for success' dimension that others do not, a quality that makes us feel kid-like OR protective (again with the paradoxes!). This, I think, comes from the merger of excellence with visible fragility. Bonds and Jeter, for example, show none of this ... Reggie did. (Jeter actually may start getting some sympathy for the first time in his career if a tough season doesn't turn back around ... so far it is going the other way here, more of a Get Going You Bum, or leave ss to someone better!).

Was it here that someone called Abreu the most boring star around? Can't remember, but have to say I LOVE watching Bobby Abreu on his game, at the plate ...

The thread on Mo Alex referenced ... major confusion/semantics issue between 'perfect' motion and flamboyant or entertaining motion. Once Luis Tiant comes into the discussion you KNOW we're not in Kansas any more!

Speaking of Kansas, Olivo walked last night for the Royals ... first TEAM walk in 38 innings. 12 straight losses, maybe SOME connection?

2008-05-31 15:35:27
12.   Nick from Washington Heights
great post, Alex.

"At first I was a little taken aback, thinking he might have had a chance at a double if he had been running instead of admiring. But after seeing the replay, his display, while no less cocky, was understandable because he knew that he had hit the ball too hard get a double."

Did anyone else think Tony Pena was getting on him for exactly this? The camera caught him in Alex's face. It seemed to me he was upset with him. I could be imagining things.

I also loved the Ken Singleton line. Mo has somehow become an even greater joy to watch. How is that possible?

2008-06-01 10:56:39
13.   weeping for brunnhilde
12 I think it's because for whatever reason--he's near the end, simple longevity--we appreciate how legendary he is.

Earlier, I think, we appreciated his excellence.

Now we're really recognizing his legend.

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