Thursday, February 4, 2010

13 Days Until Spring Training: Alex Rodriguez

A year ago today, the biggest PR problem Alex Rodriguez had was his portrayal in Joe Torre's book. At the time, The Yankee Years painted A-Rod as a preening, narcissistic phony who was universally disliked by his teammates. There wasn't much in the book that hadn't been written in the tabloids already, but it was different to hear the rumors of A-Fraud confirmed by his former manager.

It might have been unpleasant for A-Rod to deal with the negative press, but there a revelation far more detrimental to his reputation bubbling just beneath the surface. Over the next few days of 2009, Selena Roberts would confront A-Rod with the knowledge that he failed a steroid test back in 2003 and eventually report it to the world. It made what Joe Torre wrote in his book seem like a mild inconvenience.

Thankfully, A-Rod admitted his steroid use right away, but the backlash began to snowball after his interview with Peter Gammons and got even more ugly following his press conference in Tampa. He added still more fuel to the fire when he left the park during Spring Training with his disgraced cousin, was pictured kissing a mirror in a Details magazine photo shoot and was outed in the Daily News for being involved in a relationship with the madame of a whorehouse.

Those events were really just bad P.R. and weren't going to have much of an impact on his on-field production. But then came the news of his hip injury and the impending surgery which ultimately cost him the first month of the season. What was already a disastrous offseason got tangibly, inarguably, a whole lot worse. At least it seemed pretty terrible at the time.

But at a certain point when he was hiding out and rehabbing in Colorado, things started to change. The details of Selena Roberts's book began to leak and some had the potential to be very damning, but the tide began to turn. Craig from Shysterball was among the first to question the motives and level of objectivity Roberts used in writing her exposé and fairly swiftly, we all grew tired of the never ending stream of A-Rod's exploits.

Then of course he rejoined the team in a moment a movie studio would have rejected because it was too unrealistic; a three run shot on the very first pitch he saw. Although he struggled early on in his return, the back to back days off he got off in Florida seemed to turn his season around.

After his return the Yankees went 88-44 and climbed from 4.5 games behind the Red Sox to achieve the best record in baseball by 6 games. After his two day hiatus in Miami, they were 62-28. He was probably given too much credit for turning Mark Teixeira's season around, but it's hard to understate the importance of swapping replacement-level guys like Angel Berroa and Cody Ransom for one of the 5 best hitters in the game.

We heard a lot about the fact that A-Rod flew under the radar last year. In October, Joel Sherman talked about his newfound ability to blend in with the team. At the conclusion of the season, Marc Carig dubbed him the "Quietest Yankee". Even the notorious PeteAbe, who has never been too fond of the slugger, gave him credit for his ability to "blend in and stay out of the news".

Most importantly, though, A-Rod finally broke out with a monstrous playoff run. He hit a series-changing home run off of Joe Nathan in Game 2 of the ALDS along with a game-tying dinger off of Carl Pavano in Game 3.

He raked .429/.567/.952 against the Angels in the ALCS, including a crucial game-tying shot against Brain Fuentes in the 11th inning of Game 2 on an 0-2 pitch with Freddy Guzman, Brett Gardner and the struggling Robinson Cano waiting behind him.

A-Rod's line of .250/.423/.560 in the Fall Classic wasn't as gaudy as either of the previous series but he came up with huge hit after huge hit. A two run shot off of Cole Hamels in Game 3. The go-ahead double off of Brad Lidge in Game 4. He also scored two runs in the clinching Game 6.

Do you think that if you traveled back one year in time and told A-Rod that he would be outed as a steroid user, have his name splashed throughout the tabloids, have seriuos hip surgery and inadvertently grope a female police officer but would somehow come out better for it on the other side a year later, that he would have believed you? I personally still find it hard to believe now.

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