The Enigma That Is Alex Rodriguez

Frankie RioloContributor IOctober 2, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 11:  Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees  during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on September 11, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

A .320 batting average, three home runs, five doubles, eight runs batted in, and two stolen bases in 11 games.

Do those numbers look good? They should.

To make it easier, those numbers would project to be 44 home runs, 73 doubles, 118 runs batted in, and 29 stolen bases in 162 games.

Those numbers belonged to Alex Rodriguez during the 2004 post-season. The very same post-season in which the Red Sox pulled off arguably the greatest upset in baseball's long history; coming back to beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS after being down three games to zero.

And while it is very much up for debate, if Jorge Posada was able to catch Dave Roberts stealing second base in the ninth inning of Game Four, most people would be singing a very different tune about the abilities of Alex Rodriguez right now.

If Joe Torre decided to pitch out in an attempt to get the runner, as he should have, Alex Rodriguez is the MVP of the 2004 ALCS and the Yankees go on to play a St. Louis Cardinal team that was badly overmatched by the Red Sox and would have been by the Yankees, as well.

But instead, Boston managed to drive Roberts in from second, putting into motion a comeback that would conclude with the Red Sox beating New York at Yankee Stadium 10-3 during Game Seven of that series.

Now the image of Alex Rodriguez that is remembered from that post-season is not his dominance over the Twins in the ALDS and the Sox during the first three games of the ALCS.


Rather, we picture A-Rod slapping a ball out of pitcher Bronson Arroyo's hand in a desperate attempt to start a rally during the latter innings of Game Six.

I will admit, A-Rod looked like an idiot that night. Standing over on second base with his hands on his head as if to say, "Duh...I didn't do nothin'" as the umpires and both managers met around first base to discuss the bizarre event.

I even fell on the ground in tears from laughing when I found a picture under Google images that featured the slap-happy A-Rod wearing a pocket book while sporting a pink pinstriped, Yankee uniform.

However, I chose, and still choose, to look at the play in a different light than most others do. And that is that the guy was just trying to help his team win!

No matter how unorthodox the action he took may have been, it can only boil down to that one point.

Alex Rodriguez's time with the Yankees has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. He has been through a very public divorce and seems to value his celebrity status a bit too much. He opted out of his contract after the 2007 season and in February, it was discovered that he had used steroids during his time with the Texas Rangers (2001-2003).

Above all else, the fans of the Evil Empire have never warmed up to A-Rod simply because of his inability to perform well in the post-season.

While most baseball fans outside of New York don't care for Rodriguez because he seems arrogant (or because at some point in their lives they have seen him hit a 450-foot home run off of one of their team's pitchers) New Yorkers have a problem with A-Rod because since his impressive post-season display in 2004, he has gone 7 for 44 (.159 BA) with one run batted in over three separate trips to the playoffs.

And not playing well in October is like a cardinal sin in Yankee-land.

To make matters worse, the guy who regularly plays to A-Rod's left on the infield is pretty much a god in New York.

Though it is a totally unfair circumstance, Alex Rodriguez will never stop being compared to Derek Jeter here.  Despite the fact that A-Rod is in another stratosphere than Jeter in terms of talent and naturally ability, the majority of fans will always view him has the villain, and Jeter as the hero.

Never was this fact more prevalent then about a month ago, when Jeter was trying to break Lou Gehrig's career hit record as a Yankee (by the way, can anyone tell me how many hits Jeter has right now off the top of their head? I didn't think so).

I cannot describe the rage I often felt during this time in which people would voluntarily compare what Jeter was doing to A-Rod's failure.

Let me get this out in the open, people: ALEX RODRIGUEZ IS BETTER THAN DEREK JETER. PERIOD. 

Now don't get me wrong. I love Derek Jeter. As a matter of fact, one of the recurring arguements I have with my girlfriend is that I want our first child to be named after Jeter's namesake.

However, to for a minute consider that he is a better player than A-Rod is laughable. So is it the same to give any other current player that consideration, save for a few (pretty much Albert Pujols and maybe Joe Mauer and Hanley Ramirez).  

His 2007 season, in which he hit .314, with 54 home runs and 156 runs batted in, while stealing 24 and walking 95 times, was the best season I have ever seen a player have since I have been alive. I would argue that the last time a Yankee had a comparable season to this would be when Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956 (.353 BA, 52 HR, 130 RBI). 

Rodriguez has been blessed with natural power, a "V-Shaped" upper body, the gift of speed, and a nearly flawless glove. He can literally carry a team on his back.

And no matter what people may say about his steroid use, mark my words, the man will be a Hall of Famer. If you omit the stats from his "steroid years", A-Rod's career stats still stand at 1,959 hits, 425 home runs, and 1,304 driven in.

If he is to retire at the end of his ten year contract with the Yankees, then he is currently on pace to have 3,265 "steroid-free" hits, 708 "steroid-free" home runs, and 2,173 "steroid free" runs batted in for his career - undisputable Hall of Fame numbers. Clean numbers that should be cast in the same light as those of Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jim Thome (Rodriguez's numbers outside of '01-'03 should be viewed no differently than the numbers of these players, because, truly, we just don't know about anyone anymore until something is proven). 

This season, A-Rod returned to the Yankee lineup 28 games into the season after having hip surgery performed on him during spring training.

On May 8, the Yankees were 13-15 and in fourth place when A-Rod stepped into the batter's box for the first time in 2009.

The Yankee third baseman proceeded to swing at the first pitch he saw from Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie and deposited it into the left field stands for a three-run home run.

Since that swing, New York has gone 89-42, clinching the American League East and the best record in the Majors this past Sunday.

Should we give A-Rod all the credit for taking the Yankees from the bottom to the top? Of course not. A lot of things went right for New York this year.

However, two things are for sure:

One, New York is a much scarier lineup with one of the best players in the the league batting clean up.

And two, though he doesn't let it on, Alex is still playing hurt, which is something I believe a lot of fans forgot over the course of what has been an amazing season for the New York Yankees.

So here we are again. At the beginning of what most from the Bronx consider the only season that matters.

I am of the belief that A-Rod will never be fully embraced by Yankee fans. And I mean never. Even if he were to hit a walk-off home run to win Game Seven of the World Series, someone would still manage to find something negative to say about the man. I am sure of it.

But maybe, just maybe, A-Rod can turn a page this year. His mind should be clear, his bat has been hot, and the team is the best it has looked in years.

My advice to my fellow Yankee fans is to sit back and enjoy the show.

I have been saying it for the past six years, but I will say it again: Please don't boo one of the greatest players this team has ever seen out of the Bronx. If he ever were to leave, I can assure you, we would all regret it.



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