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The Man You Want to Love, but Love to Hate
2006-06-30 12:52
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I saw a big, bald-headed Spanish guy wearing a maroon throwback Mike Schmidt jersey (with a 1979 barnstorming tour in Japan on the sleeve) today on the 1 train. The guy looked to be in his mid-to-late thirties. I didn't really catch him until we were about to both exit the train. He was with two other kids, both in their early twenties I'd guess, maybe younger. I caught the dude's eye as we went through the turnstiles. I complimented on him on the jersey and one of the kids says to the dude, "That's the second guy on that's said something to you since we got on the train."

I told them that I had Schmidt on the brain lately thinking about the kind of treatment Alex Rodriguez is getting from a lot of Yankee fans this year. But before I could finish getting the words Alex Rodriguez out of my mouth, one of the younger kids skipped ahead of me as we walked down the steps of the 231st street station and said definitively, "A Rod sucks."

I think Rodriguez is a great player of course. Got a piece on him over at SI.com today, just in time for the subway serious. I enjoy rooting for Rodriguez because his at-bats, particularly at home, really seem to matter. Just like they do for all of the superduper stars. Though he has not come through as often as Yankee fans would like he has had many great moments in his two-plus years with the team. As Ben Kabak points out today, Rodriguez particularly struggles when the Bombers are behind, so when Yankee fans are amped for a rally, that is when Rodriguez is faltering, magnifying his failures in the process.

Personally, I think the fact that he presses in big spots actually makes him more appealing. Before, there was something too smooth about him, too perfect. I mean, how can you relate to a guy as good as he is? Most fans can't. His "pressing" makes him vulnerable and for me, that's something to latch onto in an endearing way. For most, though, it's a sweet reasaon to go in for the kill. And of course the money is at the root of the resentment that Rodriguez has been saddled with since he signed his huge contract.

I also think Rodriguez has become a lighting rod--pardon the pun--for how Yankee fans deal with their own sense of entitlement. George Steinbrenner has long fostered this sense of entitlement and now there is a generation of Yankee fans, many too young to remember what it was like when the Yankees were a mediocre team, who have followed suit. I find it ugly and obnoxious. Worse of all, it discounts how difficult the game is and how hard most of these players work. As we learned a long time ago in the eighties, success is something that cannot be arranged for, no matter how much Steinbrenner spends. Funny, but you never hear that the Yankees are paying Rodriguez $15 million this year. The Big Unit, Mike Mussina, Giambi and Jeter all make more. Not a bad value, eh?

But Rodriguez has becocme the glass half-empty for many Yankee fans. The general vibe is to focus on what he hasn't done instead of appreciating what he has done. So if he isn't great, he sucks. It's not as if they want him to fail, but he they feel entitled to get nasty when he does. It comes with the territory for Rodriguez, especially in a town like New York. The newspapers have been not always been kind. And now, a disturbing twist in the David Justice rip-job story (Justice killed Rodriguez the other night on the post-game show).

I just think about the numbers he's put up since he signed with Texas and then consider how much he's been killed for his salary ever since. Can you imagine what the fans and the media would have done to him if he was actually awful on the field during that time?

You may or may not be sympathetic to Rodriguez's current situation. He's carrying a heavy load and it often looks like it is getting to him. I know he's a corporate guy, but I admire his work ethic. He cares. If I could wish anything for him it would be for him to lighten up a little. Dig this winning quote from Derek Jeter, talking to reporters about Jose Reyes:

"He enjoys playing," Jeter said. "It looks like he's always smiling and having a good time. I think you have to be that way, especially here. You've got to make sure you enjoy yourself. If he stays healthy, he's going to have a long career. He's fun to watch."

Jeter is a gamer in the George Brett sense of the word. He's constantly enjoying himself. Whether Jeter is up with the game on the line in October or in a blowout game in Kansas City in August he's never too tight or too loose. Though his talent outshines Jeter's, the game doesn't look like fun for Rodriguez. Given the huge expectations placed on him I can understand why. Man, he deserves to enjoy himself a little bit. A big weekend against the Mets would go a long way in restoring some of the ol' joie de vivre to A Rod's life. I know it sure would add to mine.

Comments
2006-06-30 14:18:01
1.   randym77
He deserves a standing ovation when he comes to the plate tonight.

Though I'm half-afraid that if they give him one, it'll freak him out. :-/

2006-06-30 14:31:03
2.   Alex Belth
It's 5:30 and A Rod is on with Mike and the Dog right now.
2006-06-30 14:33:34
3.   randym77
And good article.

Someone...was it Celizic? said something similar to what Nancy said. That the booing A-rod gets is unlike any heard at Yankee Stadium before. He said the only time he heard booing as vicious was for Jeff Weaver.

2006-06-30 14:33:40
4.   Alex Belth
Mike teased A Rod and said he had a little Ortiz when he threw off his helmet rounding third the the other day. Rodriguez laughed.

"He's like Sinfeld. He's on every week with a walk off. So I figured, why not?"

Genuine moment. He's good with them right now. Sitting there with them.

2006-06-30 14:36:23
5.   Greg Brock
As a Dodger fan, I've been trying to understand this entire A-Rod phenomenon in New York for a couple of years now. Thanks for giving a very illuminating take on the situation.

Personally, I just think the guy is terrified of failure, and desperately wants to be adored.

2006-06-30 14:37:14
6.   Nick from Washington Heights
It's weird about the perception that A-Rod is fake in interviews. He's guarded, yes. But to me he can't help himself. He's honest maybe to a fault. He's a much more interesting interview than most players as a result. Maybe, I'm totally misguided here, but that's my opinion.
2006-06-30 14:37:41
7.   Alex Belth
A Rod tells that that he hates boos, he doesn't like it at all. He says when you get booed 15 days in a row, it's hard to ignore. "I can handle it, but no, I don't like it, no."

Says he's going to have a great July, August, September and hopefully October.

2006-06-30 14:39:06
8.   Alex Belth
Mike and Chris, it comes to this: When your mechanics are scewed up, you are going to hit like I hit in June. When they are going good I'll hit like I did in May.
2006-06-30 14:40:12
9.   Alex Belth
Mike asks him if he likes NYC in spite of the heat.

"It's difficult but I enjoy it. I enjoy it. It's a great challenges. I won the MVP. Usually that buys you five or six years in a city. In New York it bought me about two days."

2006-06-30 14:41:12
10.   Alex Belth
Rodriguez says the resentment comes down to the money but points out that he's only making $15 million for the Yankees.
2006-06-30 14:42:50
11.   rbj
Thanks for these updates Alex.
2006-06-30 14:43:33
12.   Alex Belth
Do yo have fun with it?

Sometimes more than others. Says he hasn't felt right all year. "My goal here, and I'm excited about it. I'm want to lead us for the next three months and into the post season."

Chris asks him about the sloppy D and he owns up to being lousy. "I think sometimes you can't let your hitting, your hitting woes, you know sometimes the better you field, the better you hit, the better you hit the better you field, you have to seperate everything--baserunning, fielding, hitting."

2006-06-30 14:49:10
13.   Alex Belth
Hopefully these fans give you a break--Russo.

I hope so. Rodriguez.

Really good interview. The guy was as down to earth as I've ever seen him. He made it easy for them. Let them ask all the hard questions--about his D, pressing in clutch situations, his contract, the booing--and he answered them with aplomb. He wasn't confrontational with them. He let them do their job and he played right along.

Rodriguez came clean and admitted to being bothered and distracted by the constant booing. He said it hasn't always been fun. But he exuded an easy confidence when talking about how the rest of the season is going to unfold.

The more he talked the more convincing he was. He had a couple of digs for the Yankee fans who are killing him but concentrated on talking about how hard he is working to come out of it. He admitted to being "off" this year but listening to him I got the feeling that he's going to be a monster in the second half.

2006-06-30 14:51:13
14.   rbj
And if that story is correct, my opinion of Kay (& Kaat & Leiter) has just gone up.
2006-06-30 14:53:44
15.   Nick from Washington Heights
Alex, did the interview change in anyway your view/perception of him? I'm in SF so I didn't get a chance to listen.
2006-06-30 15:00:03
16.   Cliff Corcoran
14 Indeed. That Justice spiel was sickening and to know it was planted in his mouth by the YES brass makes me even more disgusted by both Justice and YES, which I think otherwise does a tremendous job. I remember reading an article on Filippelli that mentoined how he'd phone the booth and plant ideas in the broadcasters minds/mouths. Most of the ideas he offered in that story (I can't remember where I read it, sorry) were garbage. Now reading that Daily News story, I'm thinking Filippelli has to go.
2006-07-01 11:43:33
17.   maynard8
One thing people who aren't from Philadelphia don't realize is that while Schmidt got a lot of abuse from the fans early on, he was never booed in the second half of his career in Philly. I know, I went to dozens of games at the Vet during that time. That may not sound like particularly generous treatment, but I think people have the impression that even after Schmidt and the Phils won the Series in '80 he was still being booed every time he struck out. Not true.

I doubt, by the way, that that's true for Ted Williams, who was always off and on the shit list for Bosox fans. Fans in Boston and New York have always been at least as tough as those on Philly.

On A-Rod: He's booed, I imagine, as much for his unpleasant personality (that spoiled brat quality he has) as much as for his obvious failing to live up to his (total-not just the Yanks' part of) contract. This is not to deny that Alex is a HOF'er-but his 2006 is mediocre so far.

That said, if I were a Yankees' fan I'd never boo him. Booing your home team or its players is bush-league. If they don't meet your expectattions, stop going to the games.

2006-07-01 11:45:58
18.   maynard8
"in Philly"

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