No, I'm not just excited because Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run home-run with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning of tonight's game to claim a dramatic come-from-behind victory for the Yankees in Baltimore.
It is true that Arod may have almost single-handedly salvaged a game in which the Yankees seemed destined for defeat, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a contest that the Yankees so desperately needed. His second home-run of the evening, and his second, third and fourth RBI, which accounted for all of the Yankees' scoring for the evening, proved to be enough to defeat the suddenly competitive Baltimore Orioles in the opener of the weekend series.
This is only the latest in a series of heroic exploits perpetrated by Alex Rodriguez in a Yankee uniform.
For a man unfairly defined by his failures during his early years as a Yankee, the list of pinstriped successes continues to grow. A man that so many love to hate, it became trendy to extol the virtues of Derek Jeter, while demonizing Arod for every insignificant move that he made. Sure, the man is not flawless, but in reality, who is? If every one of us were forced to publicly declare each and every transgression we have committed, most would retreat from the public eye, never to return. To hold professional athletes to a higher degree of scrutiny, simply because we have a quixotic notion of what it means to be a ballplayer, is inequitable and unrealistic.
Admittedly, I too have done my share of Arod bashing over the years, but eventually there came a time when his trivial transgressions of personality were outweighed by his contributions to the overall Yankee cause. While character is an integral measure by which we judge any man, so much of that is subjective and nearly impossible to quantify justly. Because of preconceived notions regarding Alex Rodriguez, it became easy to vilify the man for minor trespasses for which we would have easily forgiven others.
Of course there are lapses in judgment and breaches of character which by nature are far more difficult to forgive. If Alex was an accused rapist or guilty of smuggling young immigrants for exploitation in a sexual slavery ring, then have it him. But he's not guilty of such extreme crimes.
If you want to hold his admission of past steroid use against him, I fully understand that perspective. While I haven't completely decided how I feel about that issue, I completely comprehend the desire for purity of competition in the sport we love. Unfortunately, the further we delve into the dark chapter of baseball's past, I feel that the line between guilt and innocence becomes blurred and our ideas of clean and dirty become skewed. When it becomes clear that heroes of prior generations were simply using different substances to get an edge, then where do we draw the line? We know that players who utilized various methods of "cheating" are already immortalized in the Hall of Fame, yet we reserve our harshest scorn for this generation of ballplayers.
Other issues like cheating on his wife don't bother me, because I have no intimate knowledge of the intricacies of his relationship. Do I endorse it? No, of course not, but I certainly won't let it affect how I root for him on the baseball diamond. The guy took his shirt off on a sunny day in Central Park? I've done that myself, along with millions of other people at various times over the years, and I would hope to not have my character called into question over it. The Vanity Fair images of him kissing himself in the mirror? Questionable, considering his public persona as a self-centered narcissist, but hardly egregious enough to leave a lasting impression.
My primary concern is whether Alex Rodriguez puts forth his best effort to help the Yankees, the team I have rooted for my entire life, win baseball games. And that he does.
Until last year, Alex's reputation was based upon his miserable playoff statistics with the Yankees from the last few games of the 2004 post-season to 2006. Everyone wondered how a player of such magnitude could struggle so mightily when the lights shone their brightest. Realistically though, the stretch for which he was crucified was a mere 50 plate appearances or so. Yes, the scrutiny is greater because of the high stakes in the playoffs, but in the context of the baseball season, the 12 or so games on which so many based their opinions of Arod's perceived failures, represent roughly two weeks worth of action.
Everyone conveniently forgot his heroics of the 2004 ALDS against the Twins, or his tremendous first four games of the infamous 2004 ALCS collapse against Boston. Alex, along with much of the rest of the Yankees, disappeared for the fateful last three games of that series, but he became a symbolic representation of that failure.
Truthfully, his next two appearances in the post-season, the first round exits in 2005 and 2006, against the Angels and Tigers respectively, were miserable, it's difficult to deny that. In baseball however, it is simply unrealistic to pin the failures of an entire squad upon one player, but unfortunately for him, so many were willing to do just that.
It took until the 2009 playoffs, his sixth year in the Bronx, to finally earn some respect amongst a vast majority of Yankee fans. Each series contained a personal highlight reel, a testament to Alex Rodriguez's new-found clutch status and finally a chance for him to "earn his pinstripes."
He repeatedly tormented pitchers throughout the post-season, continually producing memorable moments and a game was never over when Arod still had an opportunity to bat. His multiple late-inning heroics against the Twins, then Angels, were some of the prime catalysts which propelled the Yankees into their first World Series during his career in the Bronx.
During his first World Series of his career, Alex continued the dominant performances against the Phillies that had already typified his 2009 playoff experience. The timely hits kept coming, as Alex and his teammates finally hoisted the World Series championship that had eluded the franchise since 2000.
With the ultimate team ambition achieved, it was finally impossible to question Arod's contributions to that endeavor. In 15 playoff contests, in which the Yankees went 11-4, Alex hit .365 with a phenomenal 1.308 OPS, crushing six home-runs, scoring 15 runs, and driving in 18. It would seem that the "most-hated man in baseball," had finally accomplished the feat which would surely help him shed the reputation of an egocentric superstar with a knack for empty successes.
While many fans and members of the media jumped back on the Arod bandwagon following his tremendous display of playoff heroics, the road to respectability would still not come easy for Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees, courtesy of their dramatic come from behind victory at Camden Yards, once again stand atop the AL East with the best record in baseball. Alex Rodriguez's two home-runs and four RBI were responsible for the entirety of the Yankees' scoring in this crucial 4-3 victory.
Though his power production may be reduced, and his batting average, on-base and slugging percentages may be down from his career norms, Arod is in the midst of his 13th consecutive season amassing 100 or more RBI, and if he hits five more home-runs, he will be the only player ever to reach both of those plateaus 13 straight years. He is the only player in baseball history to collect at least 100 runs driven in during 14 seasons, a feat which one doesn't accomplish without a fair amount of clutch hitting.
Despite his diminished home-run total and averages in 2010, Alex has still driven in 111 runs in 122 games. With only 25 home-runs, he has accomplished this by hitting .294 with runners in scoring position, and .292 in those situations with two outs. His slugging in those spots is down, at only .515 and .385 respectively, but if he is still hitting singles with runners on, and driving in runs, that is accomplishing the ultimate goal. In what Baseball Reference defines as "High Leverage" situations, Arod is batting .329 with a stellar 1.016 OPS and 47 RBI.
For his career, Alex Rodriguez is a .300 hitter with RISP, and a .946 OPS in those situations. In 1,868 "high leverage" plate appearances, he is a career .305 hitter with a .976 OPS, 113 home-runs and 615 RBI.
If one were to look at his value in terms of "wins above replacement" player, Alex stands at a career WAR of 101.1, or 19 more wins than the next active player, Albert Pujols. Of course he had a several year head-start on Pujols, but as far as all-time, Arod ranks 20th, and with likely a few more productive years in his career, stands a significant chance of leaping further up the list.
As a man, Alex Rodriguez may have his flaws, but he surely would be unique if he didn't. While I don't judge him harshly for some of his prior behavior, I also make no excuses for him either, as a man is ultimately responsible for his actions the image he portrays. Simply as a baseball player however, and make no mistake, that's what Arod is, he is undoubtedly one of the most talented we are likely to witness play the game, and at that, a much more "clutch" player than his detractors would ever likely admit.