On Alex Rodriguez, forgetting the ‘what ifs’ and being thankful for the past ten years

(While this isn’t technically a stream of consciousness piece, it was written like one. I just wrote everything that came to mind and then added stats to illustrate some points. I wasn’t expecting to write this much about A-Rod but when you’re a writer and struggling to actually write and this sort of thing happens, you go with it. So I did.)

On Saturday February 14, 2004, I was nursing a broken heart and did not want to leave my apartment.

My parents came into Manhattan to try and convince me to go out to dinner with them. I thought, ‘Yes, that’s just what I need, to go out to dinner with my parents, surrounded by couples celebrating Valentine’s Day!’

As my mom was trying to reason with me, my house phone rang. I excused myself from the conversation and went into the kitchen to pick up the phone.

“Hello.”

It was my brother James and all he said was, “Put on ESPN, we’re getting A-Rod.”

“What?”

“See for yourself. They’re working on a trade.” I placed the phone onto the kitchen table, walked into my TV room, turned it on, changed the channel to ESPN and saw what my brother was talking about.

I screamed out a string of expletives, my dad told me to watch my mouth and then when he saw what I was reacting to, he said the same exact phrase. Do as I say, not as I do. Or so they say.

I couldn’t believe it. The Yankees were working on a deal to bring Alex Rodriguez to New York. Was this real life?

At dinner that night, I discussed the impending deal with my dad, the longtime Yankee fan who attended his first game in 1946, and he loved it. He said, “Alex Rodriguez is the best player in baseball and has a chance to be the best of all-time, the Yankees have to make this deal.”

When it was officially announced a couple of days later and Rodriguez was introduced to the New York media, my boss at NBC allowed me to sit in his office so I could watch the press conference on his TV.

While I wasn’t a big fan of Rodriguez and had written some disparaging stuff about him in the past, I was thrilled with the deal. Alex Rodriguez was 28 and in the prime of his career so I imagined many M.V.P. awards, championships, parades and a lot of happiness in Yankeeland…

Now, nearly ten years removed from the day in February 2004, after many early playoff exits, after numerous off the field drama, after PED admissions, and even after the 2009 World Series victory, people are now writing “what if” pieces.

What if the Yankees hadn’t signed A-Rod? What if they kept Alfonso Soriano?

Look, it’s easy to imagine a Yankee team without Rodriguez and it’s also very easy for some people to put the blame of every postseason failure on his shoulders even if it wasn’t entirely his fault. That’s what happens when you sign a contract for so much money. You become bigger than the team you play for.

But was he supposed to refuse the $252 million deal from Texas? Would you say, “You know what? I think that’s too much money, can you knock a few million off the final contract? Thanks!” No, you wouldn’t.

Things didn’t start off so smoothly for Rodriguez in his first season with the Yankees. It wasn’t that he was bad because he wasn’t at all. He just wasn’t quite A-Rod. His average slipped and his power numbers slipped a bit. Of course, for everyone else, a line of .286/.375/.512/.888 with 36 home runs and 106 RBI is great but for Alex Rodriguez and his $252M contract, those numbers weren’t up to snuff.

When people bring up the infamous 2004 collapse, for some odd reason, they use A-Rod as a scapegoat when it was a total team failure. Those same people also neglect to remember that it was Rodriguez’s play in that year’s American League Division Series that allowed the Yankees to even advance into the Championship Series.

They also seem to solely blame A-Rod for the early exit in 2005 against the Angels when it was Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui who left a small village of men on base. While A-Rod’s BA was a paltry .133, his OBP was .435 thanks to six walks in that series. Maybe it was because A-Rod eventually won the league M.V.P. that season and the people who like to use revisionist history to write those “what if” pieces are using it as a reason to cast blame on Rodriguez.

Now, 2006 was an odd season for A-Rod. While his numbers were good – and similar to 2004’s – they weren’t as good as the previous year’s. All of his offensive numbers slipped, his coach called him out in an Sports Illustrated piece and a teammate, Jason Giambi, also called him out in the same article.

It was as if everyone was against him and nothing he did relieved the pressure he was under.

When 2007 rolled around, Alex adopted a new attitude He decided to ignore what people were saying about him. He went out onto the field and played, and because of that change, he ended up having an amazing season (.314/.422/.645/1.067 with 54 home runs and 156 RBI). He won his third M.V.P. award – second with the Yankees – and had one of his best seasons as a major leaguer but the Yankees, once again, were booted out of the playoffs in the first round.

Then, just when you thought 2007 couldn’t get any worse from a Yankee fan perspective, the Red Sox, once again, made the World Series, ultimately winning it. Of course, that wasn’t the worst thing about that series, no, the worst thing to happen was Alex Rodriguez opting out of his contract in the middle of the Fall classic, much to the chagrin of everyone who watches baseball.

The timing could not be worse.

The Yankees, of course, ended up re-signing Rodriguez to what is now viewed as one of the worst contracts in the history of mankind. I remember being so annoyed at the time with everyone involved.

Toward the end of the 2007, A-Rod appeared in an interview with Katie Couric on 60 Minutes and when he was asked if he had ever used performance enhancing drugs, he said no.

Okay, forgive me for saying this but of course he’d say no! No one, up until that point had any evidence that he had taken anything so why give that information up in a national broadcast? And if you say you would have confessed, you’re a liar.

As we all know, that lie came back to bite him in the butt but we’ll get to that later.

After the 2007 fiasco, the Yankees failed to make the postseason for the first time since 1995 in 2008. And that wasn’t A-Rod’s fault either. That season was an organizational failure. Ownership and the front office simply didn’t field a team that could make the playoffs and they paid the price for it.

After the failure of 2008, the Yankees brass went out learned from their previous mistakes and made a splash in the offseason by trading for Nick Swisher and signing CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. If the Yankees were going to have a chance to win the World Series, 2009 would be the year.

Then, all hell broke loose.

First, came the revelation that Alex had used performance enhancing drugs. He claimed to have only used them in Texas from 2001-2003 and did so because he felt pressure to perform at a high level. You know, I can think of 252 million reasons why he felt pressure. Can’t you? And that’s not to excuse him but you can at least understand his mindset.

Next, he was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his right hip and had to have surgery. He would miss Spring Training and the first month of the 2009 season.

Most people figured he’d come back and that his play would be diminished because of the surgery. Nope.

On May 8, 2009, in his first at bat back in a Yankees uniform and on the first pitch he saw, Alex Rodriguez launched a home run to left field. That was just a glimpse into how the rest of the season would go for both Rodriguez and the Yankees.

And while the 2009 season started off a little rough for the team with the absence of Rodriguez and with the new guys getting acclimated, things started clicking after the All-Star break and the Yankees won the Division.

I got tickets to the first game of the American League Division Series and after A-Rod hit a fly ball for the final out of the first inning some guy sitting with me way out in Section 334 started in on him. When the game ended, Rodriguez was 2-4 with two RBI. I made it a point to say something obnoxious to the guy as we were leaving because that’s what I do. I like to point out when people are being silly.

I had another chance to do that during the 2009 ALCS.

Now, imagine this for a moment. Even after the ALDS A-Rod had, this guy to my left in Section 205, decided to heckle Rodriguez when he came to bat with the Yankees down a run in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Two. Okay, so Alex was hitless up to that point but still, you’d think after the series he had against Minnesota, some people would lay off and give him a break.

Nope.

Just before Brian Fuentes threw his 0-2 offering, the guy yelled out, “Hey A-Rod, earn your paycheck!” and I’m not even exaggerating, A-Rod hit his home run the very next moment and as the ball landed and we all cheered, the guy directly to my left yelled out to the heckler, “Did he earn his paycheck?” I added a word that begins with the letter D and my new buddy to my left high fived me. We then watched as the Yankees won the game in walk-off fashion.

That encounter was typical of many that I’ve had with fellow Yankee fans in recent years. A-Rod could have batted 1.000 in each series during the 2009 postseason and people would still bring up all of the previous failures.

Words like “clutch” and phrases like “when it counts” are so overused by Yankee fans. Was Rodriguez’s ninth inning, game-tying home run in the Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS not clutch enough because it wasn’t in the league championship series or in the World series?

And people always invoke the Tino and Brosius clutch clauses when talking about A-Rod’s postseason performances. What drives me batty is that people always remember Tino Martinez‘s big home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series but what they fail to remember is that he batted .190/.261/.333/.594 against the Diamondbacks. In fact, he was actually pretty bad for the entire 2001 postseason.

For Yankee fans, it’s all about big moments and even without all of the added PED drama, Alex Rodriguez wasn’t going to be good enough for them. Some of the hatred and mistrust goes back to comments he made in a 2001 GQ piece when he seemed to diss Derek Jeter by saying that Jeter was a winner only because of his supporting cast.

Gee, Alex Rodriguez stuck his foot into his mouth? Wow, that’s odd. It’s not like that hasn’t been happening his entire career.

Yankee fans should have accepted A-Rod the second he put the pinstripe uniform on. He came over to the Yankees as the best shortstop in the game and was willing to move to third base for a lesser shortstop, Jeter. That alone should have endeared him to Yankee fans. He spent hours with guys like Graig Nettles learning his new position and as soon as he did, Jeter began racking up Gold Glove awards.

But no, nothing Rodriguez did was good enough for most people.

And now, here we are in 2013, nearly ten years after A-Rod came over to the team and people are writing about how big a mistake it was to trade for him in the first place.

Even with all of the drama and the nonsense he brought with him, I wouldn’t change the past (almost) 10 years. And I’m being completely honest.

Yankee fans have gone through some interesting things during this past decade. We’ve learned how to deal with a spectacular postseason failure (2004), we’ve learned that it’s not so easy to win the Division series – the 1996, 1998-2001 teams spoiled us a bit. We’ve learned the hard way that big money contracts don’t always work out and we also have learned that baseball players are human and that they make really stupid mistakes, sometimes multiple times.

Life isn’t supposed to be easy. Things aren’t handed to you and baseball fandom is the same way. All teams go though rough patches, some just last longer than others. When you think of the past decade of Yankee fandom, is what we’ve gone through in our experiences with Alex Rodriguez as a member of the Yankees really that terrible in the grand scheme of things? No.

Chalk it up to that old saying, “You live and learn.” The Yankees have done that, I think, and because of this, I am hoping that maybe during the next decade, some of those lessons will be implemented.

Stacey is co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money, co-host of the It's About The Money, Stupid podcast and is a monthly contributor to ESPN's SweetSpot Blog. She is a former contributor at Aerys Sports and High Heat Stats. She has contributed to group projects at Baseball: Past And Present and the Hall of Stats. Her work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly and most recently, she wrote four pieces for Derek Jeter: Celebrating the Yankees' Captain Clutch, a magazine printed by i5 Publishing.