As a Yankees fan…as an avid baseball fan and sometime baseball blogger….as a person on Earth, I feel that I would be remiss not to write about the events of last night in the Bronx.
Because that was some crazy shit.
Not the for first time, and maybe not for the last, things have come to a head for Alex Rodriguez in his star-crossed pinstriped career.
When Joe Girardi decided to pinch-hit Raúl Ibáñez for Alex Rodriguez, with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and one out in the bottom of the ninth, I honestly didn’t even know what to think. I didn’t have time to decide whether or not I agreed with the move before Ibáñez’s line drive landed beyond the right field wall.
Rodriguez is one of the best hitters ever. He single-handedly carried the Yankees’ offense during their 2009 title run. His reputation for choking in the playoffs is perhaps a bit overblown when you look at his overall postseason line (.271/.380/.484).
But he looks lost at the plate right now. He’s clearly not the same hitter he was in his prime. And level-headed analysis aside, he has a lot of very prominent strikeouts in big spots standing out in the memories of Yankees fans — and Joe Girardi.
Raúl Ibáñez is not a particularly good hitter anymore, though he still has the ability to hit home runs against right-handers. And he has had an uncanny knack for hitting some very big homers during his one season with the Yankees. You could certainly argue that he was more likely to tie the game than Rodriguez in that particular spot. You could also argue that pinch-hitting for ARod was borderline insane given his track record and the potential for psychic damage to a player the team will very much need if it’s going to make it back to the World Series.
I didn’t have time to sort all this out because I was too busy muttering “Holy shit” to myself over and over as Ibáñez walked to the plate from the on-deck circle. More than anything, I was titillated by the spectacle of what was unfolding and trying to figure out what it meant for ARod’s career and the Yankees’ immediate chances. Then Ibáñez hit a home run. And then he hit another one.
Before the first shot, opinion among baseball analysts seemed split as to whether Girardi was out of his mind, with a slight lean toward supporting the decision. Joe Sheehan, whose opinions I respect and usually agree with, called pinch-hitting for ARod “criminal.” Then, after the 9th-inning home run, my Twitter feed looked like this (as did that of everyone who follows a bunch of baseball writers):
In retrospect, once Girardi made the decision to pinch hit for ARod, there’s only one way this could have turned out. Because it’s ARod. And this is the kind of shit that only happens to him.
Alex Rodriguez has never been able to get out of his own way, at least since signing his megamillions contract with the Rangers all those years ago. He’s wildly unpopular with fans across the league, even with fans of his own team, and much of that is his own doing. He decided to take PEDs and then make a clumsy confession after getting caught. He decided to opt out of his Yankees contract, then awkwardly plead his way back to the team and the Steinbrenners’ good graces. He’s said a whole bunch of stupid shit.
But a lot of it is based on perception and misunderstanding. He couldn’t have known that a couple seemingly innocent remarks in an interview would burn all bridges with his sensitive BFF, Derek Jeter. He didn’t ask Scott Boras to announce his opt out during a World Series game. It’s not his fault his lips are purple. He didn’t publicize his centaur painting. (If a guy wants to commission a portrait of himself as a centaur, that’s between him and his gods.) ARod got a bad rap for the slap play in the 2004 ALCS, but if it had worked, or if Jeter or Dustin Pedroia had tried it, the play would have been lauded as gutsy, heads-up, do-anything-to-win baseball.
Rodriguez can never seem to get out of his way. He seems disingenuous all the time, whether or not he’s being sincere. Last night, he celebrated vociferously after Ibáñez’s home run and was criticized for faking it. If he had sulked, he would have been blasted for that even more. I don’t know if the huge contracts are the sole reason that ARod can never escape his own shadow, but that’s a big part of it. Compare his career in the limelight to someone like Ken Griffey Jr., who behaved like a jerk for much of his career but was always beloved by fans and most media.
I don’t like ARod. I’m not sure how it would even be possible to do so after everything that’s transpired in his career. But I certainly feel sympathy for him. I know, I know…he can comfort himself while he sits on his pile of gold like Scrooge McDuck, but it cannot be easy to be ARod. He’s one of the handful of greatest players of all time. He is probably the best player of his generation. He was the hero of the 2009 playoffs. But his legacy will be as much about booing, choking and being pinch-hit for as anything else.
ARod and New York was always a mismatch. He wanted to be Reggie Jackson, but New York already had Derek Jeter. So ARod switched back and forth between trying to blend in and trying to grab the spotlight, never seeming comfortable. He has been booed intermittently throughout his Yankees career, especially during the postseason where the blame for a number of first-round flameouts has fallen on his shoulders. Joe Torre famously dropped him to 8th in the batting order during a series with Detroit in 2006, a move that never made sense given that ARod was in his prime and that the resultant fuss outweighed any (imaginary) benefit. Now, ARod has suffered an even greater indignity — batting third yet getting pulled for a mediocre pinch hitter with the game and the season on the line.
Where does he go from here? I have no idea. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come through in a big spot at some point during this postseason. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him go 1-32 the rest of the way, then continue his steep decline next season while swinging around Brian Cashman’s neck like an albatross. All bets are off with ARod.
Meanwhile, the other fascinating aspect of last night’s brouhaha is Joe Girardi and his reputation. Last night could be viewed as The Death of the Binder, with Girardi claiming that he went with his “gut” by sending Ibáñez up to bat. But that decision could easily be supported by various stats and splits depending on which wants you want to pay attention to and how big of a sample you want to take. Girardi is being praised as a hero for making a tough call and being willing to hurt his player’s feeling. But if it hadn’t worked out, he’d be dealing with a nightmare scenario and a wasted season.
Even today, with the benefit of seeing the results, I’m not 100% convinced Girardi made the right call. I think he did, but I’m not certain. And I could probably be persuaded otherwise. But now, all eyes will be on the posted lineup card late this afternoon to see where ARod is batting against lefty Joe Saunders. And then they’ll be on ARod himself tonight when he takes his first at-bat. Rodriguez said all the right things in his post-game interviews yesterday (not that he’ll get much credit for doing so). Now, can he manage to stop looking lost at the plate? And if so, will Girardi get all the credit for “motivating” him?