Friday, November 6, 2009

I Was Wrong: A-Rod Is a Winner

The main course is steamed crow. The dessert is humble pie.

I am forced to admit it: Alex Rodriguez is a winner. If he ever was a loser, he is not anymore.

Back in March, after the steroid controversy, I said in this space that no player had ever embarrassed his team more, and that the Yankees should cut A-Rod. They should find a way to nullify his contract. I said the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman had to "Cut Alex Rodriguez. Do it. Now."

They did not. They were right, and I was wrong.

Not because A-Rod had an OPS+ of 143 this season. Not because he hit 30 homers and had 100 RBIs despite an injury limiting him to 124 games. Not because he is a lifetime .305 hitter, with a 147 OPS+, 583 homers (only Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Griffey and Frank Robinson have more honestly, and Bonds and Sosa have more, and McGwire as many, with "help"), and 2,531 hits. Not because he's 3 stolen bases shy of 300 and 3 Gold Gloves (so far) make him a complete player. And not because he was more honest about his steroid use than any other big-name player. (He was not completely honest, but he was more honest than Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez). Not even because a fabulous babe like Kate Hudson likes him, and not even because he seems to have straightened his personal life out, after he'd messed it up so badly.

No. Alex Rodriguez is a winner because he decided, having seen the alternative, that it would be better to be a good person, and a good teammate. To make himself a winner on the field and off of it.

Goldie Hawn, Kate's mother, and Kurt Russell (a Met fan but otherwise a good guy) have never married, but, like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (also Met fans but otherwise good people), they've been together longer than most Hollywood marriages. I don't think she would like Kate gallivanting around town with a guy like the guy A-Rod was perceived as being before this season. That she's okay with him speaks volumes -- especially if you forget that she was the "dumb blonde" on Laugh-In. (If you've never heard of it, try Wikipedia, as I don't think you can "Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.")

He played the regular season as if he didn't have to be Superman at the plate. He knew he was surrounded by talent. Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera. He actually seemed relaxed in that "pocket."

He hit like an animal during the Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, and again during the League Championship Series against the Anaheim Angels. He did not hit so well during the World Series, getting just 2 hits in the first 4 games, but both hits were key. And he came on after that.

It's strange, how good you can be when you don't have to be The Hero. When you can be One of the Best, instead of The Best. Vince Lombardi might disagree, but he'd probably agree with something I often say: "I don't need stardom, but I demand competence." Once competence is established, then I can look for excellence. All too often, A-Rod was excellent when it was superfluous, and incompetent when competence alone would have sufficed.

No more. Alex Rodriguez is a World Champion. He is a New York Yankee, by anybody's definition. He has earned his money. He has earned our respect.

Those of you who've seen my criticisms of him are probably expecting me to say, "Now, all he has to do is do it all over again."

No. He doesn't have to do it all over again. Because "it all" was a lot to do. He doesn't have to build the massive career stats he already has; as hard as it is to believe, he has already played 16 seasons in the major leagues. He doesn't have to rebuild his reputation after scandals inside the ballpark and out. He doesn't have to earn the respect of Yankee Fans. He has done all he has to do.

He doesn't even have to win a second World Series.

But I'd like to see him do that anyway. And I think he wants it, too. After all, if you can win it once, and you see how nice it is, why wouldn't you want to do it again?

I was wrong about Alex Rodriguez. And I'm glad of it. He became the kind of player that both of us, he and I, wanted him to be.

(UPDATE: He went back to his old ways -- using steroids and choking in the postseason. But he did buy himself a lot of time.)

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