Thursday March 07, 2013
My A-Rod Story: All That Negative Stuff
It's been a hot hot-stove league for Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is often called A-Rod, which is just as often denigrated to A-Fraud, or A-Roid, and whom The New York Post now wishes A-Gone. Good luck with that.
Here are just some of the recent stories about A-Rod, and just from the staid New York Times:
- Rodriguez Has Hip Surgery: Yankees Expect Six-Month Recovery: Jan. 16, 2013
- Concern About Rodriguez on New Front: Yankees urge A-Rod away from previous hip doctor, Marc Philippon, who has ties to Anthony Galea, who has already pled guilty to distributing HGH among athletes: Jan. 26
- Rodriguez Linked Anew to Prohibited Drugs: Jan. 29
- Rodriguez Denails Put Yankees' Patience to Test: Jan. 29
- Yankees' Options Concerning Rodriguez's Contract Are Limited: Jan. 30
- Baseball Officials Navigate Puzzle of Anti-Aging Clinics: Feb. 1
- Steinbrenner Concerned About Drug Allegations Against Rodriguez: Feb. 8
- Alex Rodriguez to Stay Away as Yankees Report: Feb. 1
With some implying his career is suddenly over at the age of 37, I began to think about the first and only time I met the man.
It was the summer of 2000, the Seattle Mariners second full year without Randy, our first year without Junior, our last year with Alex. But we were doing well. GM Pat Gillick had put together a good squad. We'd added John Olerud, Aaron Sele, Mike Cameron, Mark McLemore, Stan Javier. Plus we still had A-Rod, Edgar, Jay Buhner, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia. We were good again.
Surprisingly, a few of these players were talking about me. At the time, I wrote the player profiles for an alternative M's fan magazine, The Grand Salami, sold outside Safeco Field, and I was beginning to hear distant grumbles. It began with Mark McLemore, who didn't like my implication that he couldn't hit lefties. (He was right: he batted .293 against them that year). To the Salami editor, Jon Wells, utility man John Mabry quoted my mostly negative profile of him almost verbatim. But the grumbles remained distant. As a monthly, the Salami only gets one press credential per homestand, and it usually went to Jon. In June, though, he offered me the chance to interview Edgar Martinez and I leapt at it.
At the ballpark that day, I felt like the new kid at school. What's the etiquette? When is it okay to approach players? Edgar was a gentleman, the beat writers were helpful, Stan Javier was classy. I'd decided to interview not only Edgar but other players about Edgar, for a sidebar, and in this regard was most interested in getting Alex Rodriguez's comments. Not only was he the star of the team, he often commented upon Edgar's professionalism. Unfortunately, for the hours I was there, he wasn't. He only showed up in the locker room, trailing a camera crew, as we were being shooed from it. Crap, I thought, missed my chance. Then I decided, What the hell. Worst thing he can say is no.
“Hi Alex,” I said. “Erik Lundegaard, Grand Salami. We're doing a cover story on Edgar Martinez next month and I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of quick questions about him.”
He shot me a look.
“You own that book?”
“That magazine. You own it?”
“I don't own it, I write for it.”
“You the one who writes all that negative stuff?”
Uh oh, I thought, here it comes. Hey everybody, here's the guy who writes all that negative stuff! I imagined noogies from McLemore, a headlock from Jay Buhner, a Lou Piniella Indian burn.
“What negative stuff?”
“That stuff about me striking out all the time. All the good things I do and all you can write about is strikeouts?”
Inwardly I groaned. What had I written about him this past month? I couldn't remember.
“Well, normally we write nothing but positive about you. We've called you Kid Dynamite, Superman...”
“You understand, don't you?” he said. “Why should I talk to you if you write that negative stuff all the time?”
In other words, I got bupkis out of him. Later, in the pressbox, I took out the latest Salami and read Alex's profile. This is what I had written:
A-Rod's career weakness has always been plate discipline. He struck out 100+ times three of the last four seasons and never walked much. This year he's still piling up the K's (him and everybody else), but drawing so many walks he'll shatter his career high (59) by the end of June. It helps that he doesn't have The Greatest Player of the 1990s batting behind him—no pitcher this side of Paul Assenmacher wanted to walk anyone to get to Junior—but it seems that A-Rod, an astoundingly mature 24 year-old, understands better than ever the value of going deep into the count. His reward? As of this writing, he's leading the league in OBP—a blistering .489—and is a serious contender to be the first man since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the triple crown.
At the end of that season Alex went on the free-agent market and signed a record contract with the Texas Rangers: $252 million for 10 years. The first time he returned to Safeco Field, in late April 2001, the place was packed, and angry, in a way that Seattle baseball had never been angry. We knew we'd been robbed of something and Alex bore the brunt. I'd never heard so much abuse heaped upon one man before. Three years later, he wanted out of his contract—he couldn't stand the losing in Texas—and wound up with the New York Yankees, where, if he didn't perform, particularly in the post-season, the boos rained down on him like it was Safeco Field all over again. He went through a divorce, various scandals, many girlfriends. He was on the outs with former friend Derek Jeter, who was beloved.
I almost felt sorry for him—as much as you can feel sorry for a high-paid, superstar athlete. I used to call him the PR rep for Alex Rodriguez, Inc., because a phoniness eminated off of him and a need to please. He seemed to be aware that he was always being watched. You'd think he couldn't look at himself from the outside that way and still be as good as he was.
In 2009, Alex admitted to steroid use. But that was a comeback year for him. He had a great postseason and helped the Yankees to their 27th world championship. But he wasn't beloved. He was never beloved.
I assume he has a different perspective on negative stuff now.
Alex Rodriguez playing shortstop for the Seattle Mariners in the late 1990s. Photo courtesy of Jon Wells and The Grand Salami.