After the Yankees' 115th game of the season, the question continues to arise as to whether Alex Rodriguez will become the "275 Million Dollar Man" that the Yankees have enshrined him as.
With A-Rod wrapped up for the next ten years, the Yankees have consequently entrenched him as the the face of the franchise. Alex has undoubtedly proven himself to be the best player in baseball, and arguably the most talented. As a future Hall of Famer, he moved from his natural position of shortstop to third base for a team with a future Hall of Fame shortstop already in place.
Every year, he puts up numbers that few others can match, and should continue to replicate those numbers throughout the majority of his contract. Eventually reaching 800 home runs and breaking Barry Bonds' record seems doable for A-Rod, and him doing so would provide the franchise with a huge marketing tool for increased profits. After helping carry the Yankees to the playoffs during an outstanding season last year, it was starting to seem as if he was earning his stripes and the big paycheck attached to them.
Yet last year's playoffs, along with the first three-fourths of the 2008 season have once again shown that A-Rod's numbers are just those...numbers.
With constant opportunities in what has become a middle-of-the-pack offense, Alex has failed to produce when the Yankees need it most. Whether it's flailing at a pitch low and outside or hitting a weak pop fly into short center field, the "275 Million Dollar Man" hasn't shown the stomach for the "clutch" situation. While Alex will likely continue to pad his numbers in Yankee Stadium with a flick of his wrist, that flick is more likely to come in a 12-5 blowout rather than a tie game versus the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees offense has struggled throughout the season and it isn't only A-Rod that hasn't produced. Derek Jeter has been hitting into more double plays and striking out in more key situations than Yankees fans are accustomed to. But Derek has won championships in New York. Jeter has proven that he could handle the spotlight and produce when under the greatest pressure. Alex hasn't.
Don't get me wrong. It still doesn't entitle Jeter a pass to hit into a double play with men on first and third and one out. But Yankee fans will undoubtedly give him one if he's able to rectify that mistake his next time up.
Every team, arguably, would love to add A-Rod's potent bat to their lineup, and when fans look at his numbers they would seemingly agree. The Yankees, however, are known for their championships, and "true" Yankees are known for their ability to produce in pressure situations like the playoffs, rather than the regular season.
To players like Paul O'Neill, Reggie Jackson, and Yogi Berra, the regular season is merely a warm-up for what truly matters. For them, the season isn't worth playing unless there is a World Series Championship attached to the end of it.
Alex's career .279 playoff average doesn't seem to fit into that equation, considering the Yankees' reliance on him as the core of their offense. That production (or lack thereof), along with a series of dramatic events that include the mysterious blonde companion and recent Madonna drama has continuously provided the media with billboard material. Yet despite all the off-the-field soap operas documenting his social life, his production on the field would offset the majority of critics in what has become a very fickle New York fan base.
As the saying goes, "there's only one October." For A-Rod, that slogan seems to mean little, as far as production goes. No one is asking for Alex to single-handedly lead the team to a World Series title, but merely requesting a little more bang-for-the-buck. With 250 million dollars on the payroll for the better part of the next decade, it's a win with A-Rod or don't win at all policy the Yankees must face, barring a tremendous buyout or trade near the end of his contract.
Some may disagree and say that without A-Rod, the Yankees wouldn't be where they are this year. Yet without A-Rod, maybe the Yankees change their tune on the Johan Santana deal and commit big money to the current Mets ace. Maybe the Yankees trade for a Chone Figgins or Joe Crede and find a way to remain in contention for a playoff spot.
The Yankee teams of the 90s were built with players who didn't have the individual numbers, but knew how to win as a team. They were focused on winning-no matter how good or bad they looked doing it.
Despite Manny being Manny, he can always be counted on when his team needs him most. A-Rod, on the other hand, has proven the contrary. When the lights are beaming and the crowd is waiting for a game-winning double, the light doesn't seem to turn on. Instead, he's more likely to swing at a pitch in the dirt and watch as the pitcher throws up his fist in celebration.
You may agree partially or disagree completely, but ask yourself the question that every manager must answer during their tenure:
Who do I want up at the plate with the game on the line?
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