Alex Rodriguez got an early 40th birthday present yesterday from his manager. After having to take multiple brisk jogs around the bases on Saturday night, he got a day off in the series finale and watched his teammates put together another strong victory against a quality opponent. Even though he wasn't a direct participant in any of the on-field happenings, A-Rod did play a small part in the action by picking up Stephen Drew in a dugout pseudo-bear hug after his 2-run homer in the 6th. It wasn't all that different from the pseudo-bear hug he gave John Ryan Murphy after his 3-run shot completed the comeback on Saturday night. In addition to the celebratory dugout hugs, we've seen A-Rod factor into a lot of the in-game team camaraderie stuff this season. He's always good for a laugh when he's going first to third or second to home running the bases, and his rolling, tumbling, flop slide into home plate the other day on Chase Headley's 3-run double was a thing of comedic beauty. He's been shown yelling the loudest and celebrating the hardest in the dugout on big plays in games, he always does something worth watching during walk-off win celebrations, and he's openly admitted that he's more relaxed and having more fun this year than ever before.
All of this goes in direct contrast to the idea that was being spread through the usual media outlets leading up to the start of the season, that A-Rod was going to be a distraction. That's all we heard or read about heading into Spring Training? How big was the A-Rod distraction going to be? What kind of problems was he going to cause in the clubhouse? How would his teammates be able to deal with the distraction and how big of a problem was he going to be? "Distraction" and "problem" were the 2 words following him around the most, and no matter where people stood on the "can he still play and produce?" argument, it seemed like almost everybody agreed that he was not going to be a positive influence in the clubhouse.
Well here we are entering the final week of July with the Yankees playing great baseball and pulling away in the AL East, and it looks like things have never been better in the Yankee clubhouse. Guys are confident, relaxed, having a good time, and their strong, positive group attitude has been noticeable after the last 2 seasons of on-field mediocrity and off-field blandness. Not only did the 2013-2014 Yankees stink, they were snoozefests. No energy, no attitude, nothing to really stir your emotions as a fan. The small bit of energy that did get stirred up got stirred up when A-Rod came back in 2013 and played well in August.
Now he's back again and the Yankees just so happen to be competitive and interesting again. That can't be a coincidence. Whatever the fans and media (home or away) think about him, Alex has always had a good reputation as a clubhouse guy and teammate, and that reputation seems to be shining through more than ever this season. Early in the year there were reports and photos of A-Rod working out with Didi Gregorius and giving him some tips at shortstop. Recently Aaron Judge said that talking to and working with A-Rod in spring camp was the most beneficial experience he had preparing for this season, and I bet there's been more than one rookie who's gotten his set of tailored suits from A-Rod this season.
Pair all of that with the in-game celebrations/silliness and studly performance, and it adds up to the "new A-Rod" that's become the talk of the town over the last month or so. There are always going to be critics and always going to be fans who boo the guy for his past transgressions, but it's hard to take umbrage with anything he's done this season and impossible to ignore the impact he's had on the Yankee clubhouse. Through his professional approach to the game, now almost intimidating presence in the lineup, and the more laid back attitude he's rolling with, he's somehow made the 2015 Yankees both more serious and more fun than the last few editions.
Go figure, huh? From potential clubhouse cancer to feel-good story of the MLB season. It's almost as if all those "A-Rod is going to be a distraction in the clubhouse" articles were written from positions of willful ignorance or personal bias. He's been anything but that this year and the recent spike in "I love this team" comments can and should be connected back to him. Who would have thought that it would take MLB's biggest villain to make the Yankees fun again?