I didn’t watch Friday night’s game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. I was at a minor league ballgame with my son, and we had the opportunity to camp out in the outfield afterward; we weren’t going to pass that up.
On Saturday morning, while I was packing up my tent, someone asked me if I had heard what happened in the game. I told him no, and he filled me in. It sounded like a great game, and it got me thinking.
He’s won two American League MVP awards (2005, 2007) while in pinstripes, yet he has been criticized for “not being clutch,” especially in the postseason.
A-Rod followed a fair (4-for-15, 1 HR) performance in the 2007 ALDS by controversially opting out of the 10-year, $275 million contract he signed with Texas that the Yankees inherited in their trade with the Rangers.
He eventually signed a more lucrative contract with the Yankees prior to the 2008 season, and heightened expectations ensued.
Last year saw Rodriguez weather a tempest of issues off the field, mostly centered around his failed marriage and his dalliances with the likes of Madonna.
Alex also played much of the second half of the 2008 season with a hip injury that required surgery this past February.
This offseason, Rodriguez may have hit rock bottom.
Besides the surgery some believe could have been done sooner, A-Rod was forced to admit he took performance-enhancing drugs in his days with the Texas Rangers.
This led many to speculate that he continued to use them while with the Yankees, especially during the 2007 season, when he posted otherworldly numbers (.314, 54 HR, career-best 156 RBI and 143 runs scored).
Now in his sixth season with the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez has played more games and accumulated more HR and RBI with the Yankees than he has with either the Seattle Mariners or Texas Rangers.
And yet, being Alex Rodriguez has overshadowed what Alex Rodriguez the player has done on the field for the Yankees in his six years with the club.
The walk-off home run wasn’t his first, and it won’t be his last. For many fans though, his blast against the Red Sox on Friday night not only won the game for the Yankees and moved them further ahead of their rivals in the AL East standings, but it also gave Alex Rodriguez the status that many before him have attained.
A-Rod: True Yankee.
It’s a silly moniker that comes with no set criteria. Loosely defined, a True Yankee is clutch on the field in big moments and exudes a certain personality that endears him to fans and earns him respect in the Yankees clubhouse and throughout the game.
Players who come up through the system are True Yankees without requiring the moniker. It is usually applied to players who come from other organizations and play a chunk of their careers in New York.
Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez are recent examples, for instance.
For much of his time with the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez has been equally revered and reviled by fans, media members, teammates, and opposing players.
Those who didn’t think of him as a True Yankee before last night were converted last night with one swing of the bat, much in the way Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi used walk-off HRs to overcome slow starts to their Yankee careers.
Since returning from the disabled list this season, Alex Rodriguez seems different. He seems more comfortable with his surroundings, with his place in the game, and on his team.
While it hasn’t been reflected in his statistics yet, perhaps his walk-off home run on Friday night is evidence that, perhaps, he will come through in big moments more than ever.
If he does become more of a clutch performer, then this October won’t be a disappointment for either he or the Yankees.
And, if he does wind up with a World Series championship in 2009, then Alex Rodriguez will cement his legacy as a True Yankee after all.