x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Spare A-Rod, spoil the player

Strip away the name and the oft-putting image and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was just another usually adroit hitter ensnarled in a slump during the worst possible month: October.

With one of the richest contracts in Major League Baseball history Alex Rodriguez is an easy target, a player who cannot do enough to justify his salary. And when he is struggling the boo birds come to roost. But Rodriguez also does not help himself with the personal choices he makes.
With one of the richest contracts in Major League Baseball history Alex Rodriguez is an easy target, a player who cannot do enough to justify his salary. And when he is struggling the boo birds come to roost. But Rodriguez also does not help himself with the personal choices he makes.

Even with five of six series so far going the distance, nine one-run games, two walk-off wins on the same day, San Francisco rallying from 2-1 behind in a best-of-five and 3-1 in a best-of-seven to steal both series, St Louis winning a series despite being down to their last strike, the arguable launch of wild-card games, the most controversial infield fly rule call ever and Detroit's Justin Verlander emerging as America's most envied male for his superlative pitching and his supposed girlfriend (the famed model Kate Upton), the abiding buzz from baseball's post-season has radiated from an underperforming player identified by a four-letter word, with a punctuation mark mixed in.

A-Rod.

Strip away the name and the oft-putting image, and the most cockamamie big-bucks contract awarded in the annals of US team sports, and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was just another usually adroit hitter ensnarled in a slump during the worst possible month: October.

It happens.

This year alone, his teammate Curtis Granderson flailed away to a .100 average, yet managed to out hit another renowned Yankee, Robinson Cano (. 075).

Buster Posey of San Francisco, who is leading the National League MVP campaign, stumbled into the World Series at .178, fellow San Franciscan Hunter Pence at .188.

The good thing for the teenager Bryce Harper of Washington is that Rookie of the Year voting closed before the play-offs, because in them the Wonderboy hit .130.

Rodriguez, at .120, has no shortage of de-fanged sluggers with whom to commiserate.

But he is the pinata, bashed until the last traces of stuffing have poured out. A lightning A-rod for criticism, burnt to a crisp.

Some of this he brought on himself. Gifted hitters are good at self-correcting, yet Rodriguez seemed fooled repeatedly by the same pitches. In 25 official appearances, he whiffed 12 times.

Right-handers reduced him to an object of laughter, scorn and pity. Incomprehensibly, he was 0-for-18 versus them, with a dozen strikeouts. You or I could have stuck out a bat over the plate and made contact more often.

Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager, trying to balance saving his team with helping Rodriguez save face, dropped him from third to fifth in the batting order, then to sixth.

It made no difference. Burying Rodriguez deeper in the line-up would have constituted cruel and unusual punishment, so Girardi benched him.

Critics dusted off an old baseball bromide that preaches patience with proven hitters on the premise that they can break loose at any moment. But Girardi could wait no longer, sitting Rodriguez in Game Three against Detroit to spare him utter humiliation against Verlander and in Game Four against ... well, by that time, it no longer mattered.

Naturally, Rodriguez, being 37 years old going on 17, invited more ridicule by flirting with two spectators, sending them autographed baseballs inscribed with his phone number.

The common juvenile ploy probably dates to the Bate Ruth era.

Rodriguez is immature enough to not realise it is best exercised in spring training, not in the glare of the play-offs.

Too bad the women did not respond with some instructional advice: "Move back in the batter's box and shorten your swing."

Partly owing to Rodriguez's standing as a hard-to-like star is his apparent disinterest in blending in with whatever team he is on and his admission of steroid use.

We prefer our sluggers (or scorers or speedsters) to be collaborative and clean.

But much of the disdain is not of his doing.

Oh, he could have declined the 10-year, US$252 million (Dh924.8m) contract pushed across the table to him by the Texas Rangers. ("I've done some dumb things. That was one of the dumb things," said Tom Hicks, the owner, in hindsight.)

Or the 10-year, $275m deal from the Yankees by invoking the classic American comedic line, "We are not worthy".

You or I would have signed, too.

At least the Rangers opened their vault during the prime of Rodriguez's career, which has positioned him at fifth for most all-time home runs and sixth for RBI.

The Yankees, whose errors with profligate spending often are smoothed over by deep pockets, are beholden to Rodriguez until after he turns 42. That is five more seasons, at a choking cost of $117m.

A change of scenery, if for no other reason than to dial down media attention and expectations of a player entering middle-age creep, would seem advisable. Steady decline appears irreversible.

But most franchises will be hesitant to take on a distraction, along with whatever portion of the contract the Yankees decline to cover.

So, this week, Girardi and the general manager Brian Cashman, spoke an inconvenient truth that might have caused the late George Steinbrenner, New York's longtime impatient owner, to turn over (and over) in his tomb: at third base next season, in all likelihood? Alex Rodriguez.

Until retirement or contract buyout do they part.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE