Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Yes, Yes, Again
2006-08-09 10:10
by Alex Belth

I realize that the last thing regular Bronx Banter readers probably need is another Alex Rodriguez article, but there are two that I wanted to share with you. The first, by Eric Neel, is up on ESPN today. Neel explores what I've been talking about all year--how Rodriguez's vulnerabilites actually make him approachable. Rodriguez, Neel writes:

...Comes off as this odd blend of superstar talent and confidence, packaged with common-guy uncertainty and instability. He's someone we have to think about. What makes him tick? How's he holding up? Is being in the fishbowl getting to him? Someone we have to engage on a kind of basic human level.

"It's complicated with A-Rod," says Steven Goldman, author of the Pinstriped Bible at "It's about us, too — writers, fans, whomever — about how we respond to him. Can we accept him; can we empathize with the possibility that he has weaknesses just like any of us? Or do we reject him? Do we make fun of him and distance ourselves from him? It's like an after-school special almost."

Everyone says, "It's hard to have sympathy for a guy making $252 million." We struggle to see ourselves in someone so wealthy and so talent-rich. The guy is so good, and at such a young age, that we literally have no analogs for him in our experience. We don't relate. He strikes us as robotic, as impossibly skilled. We can't sympathize. But empathy is a different impulse.

Empathy means stepping outside ourselves and our conventions. We don't really know what kind of stress A-Rod feels, but empathy would have us wonder. Empathy would have us thinking about how "sensitive" might be the flip side of "passionate." Empathy also could mean imagining how opening up to the media, or being vulnerable to the people, wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world for a guy who has been under the microscope since he was a teenage kid growing up in Miami without a father. It would mean being emotionally entangled, responsible even.

Most of us reject that prospect. We run from it. We prefer the simple, familiar mechanics of winners and losers, heroes and villains, guys who have it and guys who don't. We say it's all about the rings. We say, as if we have no weaknesses ourselves, as if we've never shrunk from anything in our personal or professional lives, "suck it up" and "be a man." We demonize, then exile the "weak" guy. We treat him as if his sensitivities were contagious, as if he had cooties.

Bruce Weber, writing in the New York Times several weeks ago, echoes this line of thinking:

The sports talk shows relentlessly parsed Rodriguez's personality. What the heck is wrong with the guy? It must be in his mind, right? One television analyst (baseball analyst, that is), said Rodriguez was already a lost cause in New York, that it would be better both for him and the Yankees if he were traded to another city, where his delicate psyche could repair itself in an atmosphere unpoisoned by the home fans' disappointment. The former mayor of New York Rudolph W. Giuliani was moved to give an interview, counseling New Yorkers not to boo A-Rod because, he said, positive reinforcement is clearly what the man needs, and besides, it's in the best interest of the Yankees.

Through it all, the lack of sympathy has been remarkable. People aren't exactly angry at the guy, but they seem to feel his troubles serve him right -- certainly not the general reaction to those in the throes of a breakdown.

His critics fixate on his failures: it was rare you heard that the same week he made the five errors, he also became the youngest man in the history of baseball to reach 450 home runs. Besides, hitting is more of a reactive enterprise than throwing; when a pitch is thrown you've got only a fraction of a second to swing the bat, and that's not enough time for a mental lapse. (Another bit of Berra wisdom: "You can't hit and think at the same time.") The point is that A-Rod's problems are not so easy to explain away with a definable diagnosis, as a mental tic that leaves him helpless, a condition you can look at and say, Huh, poor guy, it must be tough to live with something like that. Rather, he seems to be someone with a life, an attitude, a personality, demands, responsibilities, priorities and uncertainties, operating in an arena where success is far from a certainty. Someone, well, normal.

He turned 31 on Thursday; maybe it's a midlife crisis. In any case, unlike, say, Knoblauch, whose fits of poor throwing seemed alien, like an exotic disease he somehow unluckily caught, A-Rod is anything but strange. Maybe we're so caught up in his angst because we have met the All-Star and he is us.

We like our failures to be obvious--that is why it is easy to root for underdogs like Sal Fasano and Bubba Crosby. But when the guy who seemingly has everything--talent, money, good-looks, is also terribly vulnerable, it is a turn-off. Moreover, it brings out a viciousness in people that is almost palpable. What's up with that?

2006-08-09 10:30:34
1.   Bob Timmermann
Don't most of the big city teams (as in really, really big cities like NY, LA, or Chicago) dislike one particular superstar?

There's a significant undercurrent of dislike for JD Drew in the LA media and among some fans (tempered now since the Dodgers are winning.)

I just think that with the extremely large amount of media coverage of New York teams, any superstar is going to be scrutinized to within an inch of his life.

Then, there's the case of Philadelphia, which is sui generis.

2006-08-09 10:54:50
2.   Dimelo
Ugh! I don't even want to fathom the responses this will generate. Time to get back to work today and stay away from the Boggie Down Banter...
2006-08-09 11:04:36
3.   Shawn Clap
We've been force-fed ARod since he was drafted. Crammed down our throats by advertisers, media-types, his agent, his handlers, etc. Baseball's golden child.

Is ARod to blame for this? Of course not, but he's the only one out there operating in plain view.

In a sport so team-centric, how can he not be rejected? Especially when he's never propelled any of his teams to the top.

2006-08-09 11:08:57
4.   tommyl
I hear A-Rod kills kittens. And on Halloween he stands around shirtless, putting razor blades into apples.

Its precisely his flaws that do make me like him. Sure he's great, but he's human and you can see him trying so hard. I don't understand why people dislike him for this, I really don't. Maybe I just prefer a superhero with some flaws.

2006-08-09 11:10:34
5.   Alex Belth
The other thing is, as my pal Will Wiess mentioned to me recently, A Rod is an Alpha Dog with no chance of being the Alpha Dog in NYC with Jeter around. But he's not only an infielder, he's stepped into the most venerated role in Yankee history: that of the Great Yankee Slugger. Expectations are naturally high.
2006-08-09 11:32:30
6.   NetShrine
I think most fans would be happy if A-Rod could be Paul O'Neill like under the rule of Alpha Jeter. You don't have to be top dog to be a great show dog.
2006-08-09 12:23:56
7.   uburoisc
It seems like a daily ritual that I have to defend A-Rod against the dimwitted barbarians and class warriors who are determined to run him down. Just last night, I had to hear all about the salary and the pretty boy and the choke artist from a guy. So I ask him who his team is and he says, "the Twins." I cannot believe it. I tell him, that according to my recollection, Alex hit nearly .500 against the Twins in 04; that he almost single-handedly sent them home. Oh, he remembered all right. He kept on about the cash ("nobody should make that much money" to which I asked if he will be the one to make that decision for the rest of the professions as well), but he at least dropped the choke nonsense. I hope to God A-Rod wipes the earth with Boston this upcoming series.
2006-08-09 12:29:36
8.   tommyl
7 I'm fine with other team's fans hating A-Rod. A lot hate Jeter too. Boo him all you want as he hits a grandslam off you. I think most of us are more upset that we have to defend the guy to Yankees fans.
2006-08-09 12:29:47
9.   Simone
Sorry, but all this psychological analysis of why some people dislike A-Rod is too much. Not all great players are beloved by the fans for any number reasons and most of those reasons are unfair.

I'm a huge Allen Iverson fan and it makes me crazy how so many people in and out of Philly dislike him and rip him for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. The guy is a warrior on the court and it isn't enough.

In the end all, A-Rod can do is what A.I. does which is grow some thicker skin, call out the media and fans on occasion to release some steam, live his life, go out there and play hard.

These guys are just lucky that they have a skill that allows them, their familes and friends to live a comfortable life financially.

2006-08-09 12:30:46
10.   ericw
It has nothing to do with A-Rod he is the victim the fans are the problem.

The fans reaction to A-Rod is pure sadism and scapegoating.

Scapegoating in that this booing was at its peak in June when the Yankees were well out of the wild card and several games out of first place in the AL East. Fans are of course on the whole pretty powerless. There was a felling of frustration, their beloved team after a decade of overwhelming sucess were looking at failure, what can you do blame injuries, bad luck, tough competition, weak back end of rotation, nothing tangible to boo in that crowd. Except the guy batting cleanup having a decent year, not the great years you expect, the guy making all of the money looking so polished while you were so miserable. Classic scapegoat.

Sadism in that it is just making another person miserable to the point that it was affecting his game detrimentally (throwing errors, striking out in the clutch), which would make the Yankees less likely to win which should have made the Yankee fans even more unhappy. So a rational human being would say, let me stop this negative behavior, I'd like to help make this guy's problems disappear, which make the Yanks more likely to win, which should make me happier. However the sadist in them overcomes the rational side of them, they are happy being miserable. The pleasure they get in making this guy miserable far outweighs the pain they feel in the Yankees losing.

2006-08-09 12:51:01
11.   Shaun P
Ugh - like Dimelo, I'm running far and fast from this one (though Neel's piece was very interesting).

But before I go, I'd like to point out that I recently learned that Babe Ruth received somewhat similar treatment to A-Rod back in the day - highest paid player, booed if he didn't homer everytime up, etc etc.

Something tells me that, like Ruth, history will judge A-Rod a lot more kindly than the "what have you done for us lately" detractors of the moment.

2006-08-09 13:06:28
12.   mehmattski
11 Good point, especially regarding the treatment of the fans just one week after Ruth was named captain of the Yankees: heckled nonstop, Ruth shouted obsceneties at the crowd, and then charged into the stands ready to fight one particularly harsh critic. He was stripped of captaincy after subsequently being suspended for the fourth time that season. Alex Rodriguez was also captain of a team for about a week, and uttered what is by far my favorite sports quote of all time: "I'm probably pretty sure it will work out for the best." He was a Yankee a week later...

Though there weren't any blogs around during the 1920s, I can only imagine if there were... despite slugging 4 home runs and putting up a .300/.548/.900 line in the 1926 World Series, a few members of Bronx Banter would blame the series loss to the Cardinals on Ruth's caught stealing to end game 7.

2006-08-09 13:16:40
13.   tommyl
11, 12 Ruth caught stealing? That's hilarious. Maybe he slapped the ball free and was called out for interference? I guess Babe isn't a true Yankee.

ESPN Classic also had a piece on Mickey Mantle. They interviewed one sportswriter who said something along the lines of:

Mickey was booed first for not being DiMaggio, something he never claimed to be. Then he was booed for not winning the Triple Crown every year. Then he was booed for being a draft dodger when his knees kept him out of the war. Then he was booed because it just became the thing to do. It wasn't until '61 that he was routinely cheered for at Yankee Stadium.

That's a lot of years of being booed, makes A-Rod's being booed for striking out a few times seem almost gentle in comparison.

2006-08-09 13:18:16
14.   Bama Yankee
9 Good call on A-Rod learning from AI (on the field/court at least). Plus, if A-Rod ever starts to get booed during BP all he has to do is call a press conference and say, "We talkin' bout practice" ;-)
2006-08-09 13:19:53
15.   jkay
He's got the looks, he's got the girl and he's got the cash. Some people look at that package and see their own shortcomings. For those who can't deal with it, GET A LIFE!!

There is much to like about A-Rod. He is a family man with a lovely wife and daughter. He seems to live a clean lifestyle; no mystery apologies regarding drug use/abuse.

He has been outspoken on the issue of mental health. It is an issue where few atheletes dare to go.

He is also a true New Yorker. In a city packed with neurotic people, the man has 3 shrinks!

2006-08-09 13:28:28
16.   tommyl
12 You just gave me a great idea. On off days and in the offseason we could cherry pick some games off of retrosheet or something from the past and then post to our hearts content.

Just think:

Should Stengel have stayed with Ralph Terry in Game 7? Once again, poor BP management by Stengel costs us the world series. I love Stengel's personality and the way he handles the tough NY media, but his in game tactics are just costing this team games and in this case the world series.

We could have a veritable, second guessing, blogging free for all :).

2006-08-09 13:35:26
17.   Bama Yankee
Ruth, Mantle and A-Rod getting booed... that's nothing, soccer fans over in Scotland booed the Pope during a moment of silence after his death last year.
2006-08-09 13:44:38
18.   claybeez
17 I'm imagining it was a Glasgow Rangers match. A good friend of mine was taken to a game vs Celtic, Rangers' heated rival, when he was a kid. The chant started up, "stand up if you hate Catholics." He looked at his dad for guidance. His dad told him quickly and quietly that he best stand up for fear of what the crowd (mob) would think (do) if they didn't. Yankees vs Sox is like a trip to the theater compared to that.
2006-08-09 14:00:57
19.   Alvaro Espinoza
A-rod vs. the Al East:

BAL .143 BA/.219 OBP/.143 SLG/.362 OPS
BOS .222 BA/.317 OBP/.472 SLG/.789 OPS
TOR .222 BA/.352 OBP/.489 SLG/.841 OPS
TAM .171 BA/.320 OBP/.195 SLG/.515 OPS

This might explain some of the boos.

2006-08-09 14:03:02
20.   tommyl
19 Ahhh, Alvaro you're just jealous you never got the big money ;)
2006-08-09 14:03:16
21.   atc
Per FAN, Bernie at DH, Giambi out, Wilson at 1B.
2006-08-09 14:19:30
22.   Bama Yankee
20 Not to mention 19's career numbers: (.254/.279/.331) I wouldn't throw stones, Alvaro ;-)
2006-08-09 14:26:08
23.   mickey1956
I believe that a much better comparison for A-Rod is Ted Williams. Williams was routinely booed in Boston. In his one world series he hit .200/.333/.200(I had to look up the numbers). He was maligned by sportwriters all the time. He was never as good as Dimaggio who was a winner(A-rod isn't as clutch as Ortiz etc.). Speaking of Williams. In his worst year at age 40 he hit .254/.372/.419 in 272 at-bats. When that is your worst year that is some impressive hitting.
2006-08-09 14:52:51
24.   uburoisc
So what's wrong with a ball player going to an art museum?
2006-08-09 15:00:11
25.   Schteeve
Anyone who think A-Rod makes too much money, should consider this, when Tiger Woods retires from the PGA tour, his monthly PENSION will be in the neighborhood of $330,000.

(Dramatic Pause)

A MONTH!!!!!!!

That's 4 million a year in PENSION. That's $4 million a year to do nothing. Back off A-Rod already.

2006-08-09 15:01:15
26.   Schteeve
14 PRACTICE?!!!?
2006-08-09 15:41:18
27.   singledd
17 Yes... but he didn't win the MVP (Most Valuable Pope).
2006-08-09 15:42:38
28.   tommyl
25 To be fair, Tiger is the greatest golfer ever and he has clearly earned every cent of winnings he has. Individual sports are totally different, no contracts.
2006-08-09 15:46:09
29.   Schteeve
28 My point is not about whether someone is overpaid or not, i just hate when people say "so and so has too much money." It's ridiculous. Noone has too much money. And noone who says that someone else has too much money, wouldn't take the money if it were offered to them.

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