Monday, February 12, 2007

Alexander the Grater

There is no denying the fact that anything Alex Rodriguez says or does becomes media fodder. Whether he is promoting a children's book or annoyed by contractual questions, Rodriguez cannot win in New York. No pun intended. He is now, more than ever, a lightning-rod for criticism, blame and humiliation.

Although justified in some cases, the perverse scrutiny A-Rod faces has yet to generate any reasonable resolutions to his "problems." Last year, the onus shifted to the icy relationship between former pals Jeter & Rodriguez, and more specifically Derek's refusal to protect an endangered A-Rod.

Some fans thought ARod was (surprise surprise) completely at fault because any defense concocted by the Captain would only further weaken him - if not paint the troubled slugger as a frail child in need of daddy's guidance. Others felt that Jeter, as the leader of the club, should have spoken up for his befuddled teammate, possibly reuniting Rodriguez with a long lost acquaintance: confidence.

During this cloudy period, it was unclear whose stance was the right one. I could understand why Jeter would uphold a grudge stemming from the derogatory statements Rodriguez made to Esquire Magazine. But I could also understand a fan's belief that the Captain of a ballclub should put the success of said team over the sensitivities of an individual.

One thing's for sure. Whatever apprehension Joe Torre has had in asking Jeter to bury the hatchet must evaporate. The time has come for Jeter to back up A-Rod like he did Giambi - during the public fallout regarding his steroid confession. When the Captain begins placing personal vendettas over franchise achievements, it's time to re-prioritize.

I could see Jeter refusing to acquiesce if the player-in-need did not want to win as badly as Rodriguez. Or care as much as Rodriguez. Or work as hard as Rodriguez. Or play every day like Rodriguez. Like him or not, these traits cannot be refuted. The man genuinely wants to win in New York and works as hard (if not harder) than any professional ballplayer in the bigs.

There is no guarantee that Jeter's addressing media and fans will transform Rodriguez into a clutch performer. However, I do guarantee the King of New York effectively commanding fans and writers to "cut Alex a break, he's trying his hardest" would go a long way. Not just in terms of Alex's confidence alone, such a declaration may inspire other teammates to grow closer to Rodriguez instead of perpetuating the 24-plus-one depiction.

Eventually, all the Jeter defensives and Torre tough-love strategies will not make a bit of difference. Ultimately, the definition of "A-Rod in New York" will come down to one simple realization. At some point, Alex must look himself in the mirror and say "Screw everybody, I'm the most talented athlete in the sport."

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