Alex Rodriguez: The New York Yankees Star's Quest for Elusive Clutch Reputation

Scott GyurinaCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2010

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 26:  Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees at bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on June 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers defeated the Yankees 9-4. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

No, I'm not just excited because Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run home run with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning of last night's game to claim a dramatic, 4-3 come-from-behind victory for the Yankees in Baltimore.

It is true that A-Rod may have almost single-handedly salvaged a game in which the Yankees snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a contest they so desperately needed. His two home runs and four RBI accounted for all of the Yankees' scoring and proved to be enough to defeat the suddenly competitive Baltimore Orioles in the opener of the weekend series.

This is only the latest in a series of heroic exploits perpetrated by Alex Rodriguez in a Yankee uniform.

For a man unfairly defined by his failures during his early years as a Yankee, the list of pinstriped successes continues to grow. It became trendy to extol the virtues of Derek Jeter, while demonizing A-Rod, a man everyone loves to hate, for every insignificant move that he made.

Sure, the man is not flawless, but in reality, who is? If every one of us were forced to publicly declare each and every transgression we have committed, most would retreat from the public eye, never to return. To hold professional athletes to a higher degree of scrutiny, simply because we have a quixotic notion of what it means to be a ballplayer, is inequitable and unrealistic.

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Admittedly, I too have done my share of A-Rod bashing over the years, but eventually there came a time when his trivial transgressions of personality were outweighed by his contributions to the overall Yankee cause. While character is an integral measure by which we judge any man, so much of that is subjective and nearly impossible to quantify justly. Because of preconceived notions regarding Alex Rodriguez, it became easy to vilify the man for minor trespasses for which we would have easily forgiven others.

Of course there are lapses in judgment and breaches of character which by nature are far more difficult to forgive. If Alex was an accused rapist or guilty of smuggling young immigrants for exploitation in a sexual slavery ring, then have it him. But he's not guilty of such extreme crimes.

If you want to hold his admission of past steroid use against him, I fully understand that perspective. While I haven't completely decided how I feel about that issue, I completely comprehend the desire for purity of competition in the sport we love.

Unfortunately, the further we delve into the dark chapter of baseball's past, I feel that the line between guilt and innocence becomes blurred and our ideas of clean and dirty become skewed. When it becomes clear that heroes of prior generations were simply using different substances to get an edge, then where do we draw the line?

We know that players who utilized various methods of "cheating" are already immortalized in the Hall of Fame, yet we reserve our harshest scorn for this generation of ballplayers.

Other issues like cheating on his wife don't bother me, because I have no intimate knowledge of the intricacies of his relationship. Do I endorse it? No, of course not, but I certainly won't let it affect how I root for him on the baseball diamond.

The guy took his shirt off on a sunny day in Central Park? I've done that myself, along with millions of other people at various times over the years, and I would hope to not have my character called into question over it.

The Vanity Fair images of him kissing himself in the mirror? Questionable, considering his public persona as a self-centered narcissist, but hardly egregious enough to leave a lasting impression.

My primary concern is whether Alex Rodriguez puts forth his best effort to help the Yankees, the team I have rooted for my entire life, win baseball games. And that he does.

Until last year, Alex's reputation was based upon his miserable playoff statistics with the Yankees from the last few games of the 2004 postseason to 2006. Everyone wondered how a player of such magnitude could struggle so mightily when the lights shone their brightest. Realistically though, the stretch for which he was crucified was a mere 50 plate appearances or so.

Yes, the scrutiny is greater because of the high stakes in the playoffs, but in the context of the baseball season, the 12 or so games on which so many based their opinions of A-Rod's perceived failures represent roughly two weeks worth of action.

Everyone conveniently forgot his heroics of the 2004 ALDS against the Twins, or his tremendous first four games of the infamous 2004 ALCS collapse against Boston. Alex, along with much of the rest of the Yankees, disappeared for the fateful last three games of that series, but he became a symbolic representation of that failure.

Truthfully, his next two appearances in the postseason against the Angels and Tigers in the first rounds of 2005 and 2006 respectively were miserable. It's difficult to deny that. In baseball however, it is simply unrealistic to pin the failures of an entire squad upon one player, but unfortunately for him, so many were willing to do just that.

It took until the 2009 playoffs, his sixth year in the Bronx, to finally earn some respect amongst a vast majority of Yankee fans. Each series contained a personal highlight reel, a testament to Alex Rodriguez's newfound clutch status and finally a chance for him to "earn his pinstripes."

He repeatedly tormented pitchers throughout the postseason, continually producing memorable moments and a game was never over when A-Rod still had an opportunity to bat. His multiple late-inning heroics against the Twins, then Angels, were some of the prime catalysts which propelled the Yankees into their first World Series during his career in the Bronx.

During his first World Series of his career, Alex continued the dominant performances against the Phillies that had already typified his 2009 playoff experience. The timely hits kept coming, as Alex and his teammates finally hoisted the World Series championship that had eluded the franchise since 2000.

With the ultimate team ambition achieved, it was finally impossible to question A-Rod's contributions to that endeavor. In 15 playoff contests, in which the Yankees went 11-4, Alex hit .365 with a phenomenal 1.308 OPS, crushing six home runs, scoring 15 runs, and driving in 18. It would seem that the "most-hated man in baseball," had finally accomplished the feat which would surely help him shed the reputation of an egocentric superstar with a knack for empty successes.

While many fans and members of the media jumped back on the A-Rod bandwagon following his tremendous display of playoff heroics, the road to respectability would still not come easy for Alex Rodriguez.

The Yankees, courtesy of their dramatic come-from-behind victory at Camden Yards, once again stand atop the AL East with the best record in baseball. Alex Rodriguez's two home runs and four RBI were responsible for the entirety of the Yankees' scoring in this crucial 4-3 victory.

Please continue reading the full article HERE, and for more quality New York Yankee coverage, please visit PinstripeWest.com

And while you're at it, why don't you peruse this slide-show I created regarding the current state of the Yankee bullpen? I'd appreciate it!

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/464117-ny-yankees-kerry-wood-joba-chamberlain-and-the-state-of-the-bronx-bullpen