Deep In the Red: Call him A-RodAllow Alex Rodriguez to move past his mistake
I was a bright little kid. Good grades came easily and it was a lucky thing, because I was also short, scrawny, agonizingly shy, socially and physically awkward, and from a family that barely clung to the bottom of America's middle-class at the time. I didn't know how to make friends and had very few. My wife kids me sometimes. "The only friends you had as a kid had names that ended in 'man'," she says.
She means Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and other superheroes in the comic books I'd read all the time. My wife should only know my favorite was Green Lantern and his name didn't end in "man." So there.
I skated through elementary school with one eye open. Sleepwalked through junior high what people call middle school these days and even managed to skip a year. High school was stickier. I could still get decent or better grades without paying much attention to my studies. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was that I'd finally made some friends, and not the kind what wore colorful tights and capes. These were real, three-dimensional teenage kids and a lot them were pretty messed up. Brooklyn in the seventies was the capital of messed up teenagers. But it felt good not being a loner for a change. I liked hanging with a crowd. Too often we hung outside school when we belonged there in class. The adults around us didn't seem to notice. Our teachers, our parents ... don't ask me how, or why, but they had no idea where we were, or what we were doing, maybe 70 percent of the day or night.
I was still a smart kid. My intelligence hadn't diminished. But I took it for granted and was doing a whole lot of things I knew were very dumb.
I did dumb things for a lot of years, knowing better than to be doing them. Like the time I left a club in Bay Ridge with a bunch of my pals. None of us were in any condition to be driving but one of us drove. We veered onto the wrong side of the road saw oncoming headlights, and managed to avoid them. Not once, but a few times. Everybody in the car was laughing. I laughed too, while realizing how close we'd come to killing ourselves and other people, innocent people, and how wrong life was going for me.
It didn't keep me from doing stupid things.
College don't ask me about college. I tailspun into my early twenties. And always a part of me seemed to be observing the whole crazy, wheeling, freefalling trajectory in amazement. I always say that the people I grew up with were like rockets with faulty guidance systems. I include myself. Some of us crashed and burned. The kid whose basement our rock band practiced in died when he was 16 years old.
There was no great, blazing moment of epiphany for me, but a kind of slow, dawning realization that I had to get hold of myself or else. That I could only skirt a hard, devastating impact so many times before my luck ran out and I went up in flames. I was in my mid-twenties. There were peg marks, I suppose. This happened, that happened, and I gradually stopped doing most of the dumb things I'd done for too long. Then I met my wife and she bought me an electric typewriter, shoved me in a corner of her studio apartment, and told me to write because that was all I was good at doing. And because she believed in me.
I still smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, knowing exactly what they were doing to my body; a bit of lingering dumbness there. But my wife had never smoked a day in her life and we started hearing about the dangers of secondhand smoke. I was willing to risk giving myself cancer, but not her. I quit smoking and sat in the corner and wrote.
Looking back at myself as a young man, I wonder how someone born with a good head on his shoulders could have done so many dumb things for so long. I can see many of the reasons, but none are excuses. People often have contradictory natures. You can know better than to do something wrong, or harmful to yourself and others, but do it anyway.
I'm glad we sometimes get second chances in life. Or even third chances.
Somebody said on the radio the other day that Alex Rodriguez was too smart, and too conscious of his health, not to know what he was putting into his body back in Texas.
Unless he can read A-Rod's mind, I believe he shouldn't have said that. It's wrong.
I am disappointed that Rodriguez took performance-enhancing drugs. It is my personal belief that their effect was probably incremental at best and that he remains the most physically gifted baseball player of our era. The media howled for information about his usage, and he gave more than they asked for, and they howled for more, and he gave more, and it seemingly still isn't good enough for them, because nothing ever will be good enough. You know it and I know it. No matter what he says, or how much, they will always want more.
I am disappointed in Alex Rodriguez, but I am frustrated and disgusted with the sanctimonious members of the press, too many for me to single out individual names, who deal in speculation and hyperbole and question his sincerity based on theories that are little more than vapor ... or smog, and who dissected every moment of Rodriguez's press conference in Tampa every word, every pause, every facial expression looking for an exposed piece of flesh to attack.
They say it is their job to cover this story. That is true.
But as a group they do it poorly.
Now for what I really wanted to tell you about A-Rod.
It was 2005, his second season with the Yanks, my first full year writing this column, and the year that the then-lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays strangely seemed to own the Yankees, beating them time and again in humiliating fashion. It was also pitcher Chien-Ming Wang's rookie season, one that was interrupted by a July shoulder injury many believed would end his season and perhaps his next if it turned out he needed rotator cuff surgery.
But Wang recovered sooner than expected, and was reactivated from the disabled list in September and starting his first game back with the team against the mighty Rays at Yankee Stadium. It was an important game for many reasons, and I was working it with my YES colleague Jon Lane, and Wang looked okay, but rusty. The Rays scored early, and then again, and despite a Yankees rally late in the game they got all their runs in the seventh inning won handily 7-4, embarrassing the home team for what seemed the zillionth time that season.
In the Yankee clubhouse afterward, I made myself a fly on the wall. Being inconspicuous that's the best way to observe. It's also a way to keep from having players associate me with a press corps regular readers know I don't particularly adore. But I shan't digress.
A lot of Yankees players made themselves scarce that night. I supposed they were tired of losing to the Rays, getting asked about it, and not being able to offer any explanation. At some point, Wang appeared, spoke a few halting words to reporters, and then vanished. The press corps began filtering out of the clubhouse. Soon only a few reporters were left hanging around. And no players, as I recall.
I was about ready to split for home when Jon came over to tell me the Yanks' former pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre, would make himself available to answer questions about Wang's performance. It would be a few minutes before he emerged from the trainer's room or wherever, but Jon wanted his perspective and figured he'd tip me off in case I was interested.
I told him I'd stick around, and then Jon zipped off somewhere, and I sort of wandered over to a spot where I could stand and scribble some notes, which just so happened to be right in front of Alex Rodriguez's vacant locker.
I didn't know it was A-Rod's locker. I only found out when I looked up from my pad and saw him standing there. He was in his street clothes, the only Yankee left in the clubhouse. Leaning casually against the wall to one side of the locker was WFAN-AM radio's Yankees beat reporter Sweeney Murti.
Rodriguez stood there awhile, shaking his head from side to side and kind of staring at nothing in particular. After a few moments Murti glanced over at him, and very quietly commented that he looked upset.
Rodriguez looked back at him. Hesitated. Then, his lips tight, he said:
"This shouldn't happen. Not here. Not in our house."
He was of course talking about the Yankee loss. Another loss to an inferior team that was already out celebrating in front of their bus. His anger and frustration were palpable. It seethed from him.
|"I am disappointed in Alex Rodriguez, but I am frustrated and disgusted with the sanctimonious members of the press, too many for me to single out individual names."|
|- Jerome Preisler|
That more than any other and there would be others is the moment that defined him as a Yankee for me.
It's a moment I refer to when occasional readers write me to say the Yankees will never win a championship while he is on the team. These would be irrational statements even if Rodriguez was a terrible player. The fortunes of a baseball team never ride on the shoulders of a single member. But even veteran sportswriters like Bill Madden of the New York Daily News and the New York Post's Joel Sherman have repeatedly suggested that the Yankees would be better off without him. Before A-Rod's historic 2007 season, Madden pounded the drum that Rodriguez could never succeed in New York. After 2007 he admitted he was wrong. Now he's got his drumsticks in hand again, and is again bashing out his tired beat.
Here's my response. The Yankees will win with A-Rod. He will have the terrific postseason Yankees fans have been waiting for. He will get his World Series ring, and, if the current team stays healthy, and performs the way it should, I believe it will happen very soon.
Alex Rodriguez has made his mistakes. So have we all. But he remains the most talented baseball player of our time, and has passion, and guts, and will come out on top.
I know. Trust me.
I saw it in his eyes.
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