Alex Rodriguez: Tragic and Triumphant
I’ve got this penchant about books. When I was in grade school, they opened a library near our school and I was always checking out mysteries for my mother and taking home an armful of airplane and war books for me.
I read some of them. Others I just looked at the pictures. No way was I going to read all of them in one night, or even one week, but somehow I thought it looked cool to have four books under my arm.
Who was I fooling?
But the habit persists. I buy or borrow books by the dozen and read them simultaneously. I am not a speed-reader, but I am a prolific note taker.
I took a lot of notes when I read Selena Roberts’ excellent book "A-Rod, The Many Lives of Alex Rodriquez." She thoroughly researched this superstar—even the snarky details about drugs, lying, and cheating in school that I had refused to believe.
Roberts revelas things like Rodriguez's use of steroids in high school, possibly as early as between his sophomore and junior years in Miami.
High school coaches can make or break young athletes
Following a dismal sophomore year where he hit only .256, Rodriguez's high school coach told him: “Next year everyone will get to know you, and in 12th grade you’ll be the No. 1 pick in the country.”
The summer between his sophomore and junior years was crucial for Rodriguez. Roberts said he ”morphed into a diamond-cut man-child.”
She references steroid purchases from a dog trainer, Steve Caruso, and his later relationship with Jose Conseco. He developed so rapidly from a gangly kid who could barely put one foot before the other into this daunting baseball player that “suddenly, no one could throw a fastball past him.”
His junior year, he batted .477 with 52 runs scored, 42 stolen bases, and six home runs. He got so big and strong he could bench 310 pounds and hit a ball 400 feet.
I first thought Roberts had it in for A-Rod
Not so. She wrote an excellent book that was balanced and well-referenced. She always tried to verify what she wrote by interviewing many people. She captures A-Rod as a tragic man.
The part of the book about “pitch tipping” really bothers me. That’s where A-Rod allegedly, while playing shortstop for Seattle and Texas, had friends on opposing teams at bat to whom he would flash or tip signals. He denies it, but again, Roberts does her homework and fairly nails down this allegation found on pages 119-121.
If Yankee position players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and others don’t think that much of A-Rod, can you imagine how Yankee pitchers must feel?
An even better question is: Can the Yankees win a World Series with A-Rod, and how much better, or worse, would the Bronx Bombers be without him?
When Alex was at the plate, he supposedly received signals on pitches from the opposing shortstop. If true, this is an indictment about baseball as much as it is against A-Rod.
He denies it, of course.
Roberts' sources tell her that it may have only amounted to five or six extra hits a season, but that’s enough to bring up his average and ruin a pitcher’s performance.
You be The Judge
Here's the big thing: This is baseball, not Vegas. If caught, it’s enough to ban A-Rod or anyone else from the game for life, and I can’t understand how someone so intent about the game of baseball as Rodriquez would stoop to this.
You must read the book to understand this man’s feelings of inferiority turned into extreme egoism—growing up without a dad, wanting to be the best, and willing to do whatever it takes, which is both good and bad.
Despite the negative, the best thing I took away from the book was a positive on A-Rod
Baseball has always been his thing. He set high goals early and went after them. He is a super baseball player, and didn’t need to cheat. He exercises more than most players to stay thin. He gives millions away to charities.
Rodriguez had a great high school senior year and decided to go for the money, foregoing college at Stanford where he was accepted.
In Chapter four, Roberts tells the intriguing story of how Rodriguez temporarily fires his agent, Scott Boras, and has a friend negotiate with Seattle to get him $1.269 million. The package included a $500,000 signing bonus, a major league deal, and a guaranteed call-up in September of 1994.
Readers will like chapter three
It tells about his almost fantasy-like high school years when MLB owners and scouts fawned all over him. The pressure was intense. Roberts said he was so much sought after that baseball considered him a 17-year-old demigod.
But my favorite part of the book has to do with his struggles as a player and how Rodriguez overcame himself to become the player he is today.
It was his rookie year with Seattle. After the month of April, during the bitter cold of 1996, this discouraged 20-year-old was hitting only .105.
He needed help, so he turned to Jim Fanin, a motivational guru or faith healer. Fanin taught Rodriguez how to set goals and to use the power of visualization.
These were his goals
1. Becoming a household name
2. Meeting Cal Ripkin, Jr. again—and having Ripkin, Jr. remember him
3. Making the All-Star Game as a rookie
4. Being advertised as baseball’s newest superstar
5.Winning the batting title his first year
Visualizing is a technique used by most great athletes, especially golfers and basketball players who have to get the ball in the “hole.”
For example, do you recall NBA Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone? In his early years with the Utah Jazz, he was a notoriously bad free throw shooter until he started putting himself into a trance with a chant before each shot.
Baseball players using techniques like Fanin’s include star pitchers Orel Hershiser and Randy Johnson and second baseman Joey Cora, who first told Alex about Fanin and helped him get started with visualizing while they were teammates in Seattle.
To Alex, success became S.C.O.R.E: Self-discipline, concentration, optimizing, relaxation, and enjoyment.
This was his mantra. He believes he hits solid with an accelerated bat head because of his mental exercise, his mantra. He says it in his mind each time he steps away from the on deck circle, moving towards the batter’s box.
For this and other reasons, Roberts’ "A-Rod" is a good read, not only for young, struggling players, but for everyone wanting to accomplish great goals in life.
Don White is a former AP newsman and publishes several blogs including Yankee Wizard http://YankeesWizard.blogspot.com
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