As the speculation mounts over Alex Rodriguez's future, here's why it would be best if that future took place somewhere other than New York.
At Yankee Stadium the atmosphere not only exudes the present but also the long-standing tradition of winning. Yankee fans expect their team to win the World Series every year. And when you see the plaques in Monument Park, the banners that hang in the stadium, or the montages to a slew of Yankee heroes across the decades, it doesn’t seem like such a high expectation. We have been winners, they signal. Just keep following the tradition.
This post-season put a crimp in the usual story, however. The Bronx Bombers surprisingly turned into anemic hitters and crashed out of the playoffs. But as usual, there's no surprise as to who the lightning rod of Yankeeland's anger is: A-Rod. The Yankee Third Baseman, who usually forgets each year that baseball in New York is still played in October, was finally benched for his poor performances. It came as welcome news to a fan base that has never really liked A-Rod to begin with.
Yankeeland’s anger at A-Rod, though, is not entirely due to his bad hitting or even necessarily his inability to be clutch in the playoffs. It's because of his perceived attitude toward winning.
Ever since A-Rod became a fixture on the Big Apple scene, the aura of baseball’s high-paid star has been oddly matched with a sense of "Are you kidding me?" This applies not only to his inabilities on the field, but off the field as well. He’s become the star of his own strange brand of performance art. And just when you thought nothing could top the 2009 report that he had two paintings of himself as a centaur hanging above his bed, there was the flirting-while-benched incident. The New York Post reported that after the silenced slugger was benched in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, A-Rod began flirting with two women behind the dugout. According to the tabloid, "Instead of rooting on his teammates as they struggled to stay alive during the tense game at Yankee Stadium , A-Rod, 37, had a ball boy toss the young women a baseball inscribed with a message asking for their numbers."
Translation: vintage A-Rod. Trying to score in every way but the way he's paid to.
Granted, if A-Rod had had a productive postseason, Yankee fans would cut him some slack. But the same level of disdain hasn't been directed toward the other big guns in the lineup that didn't deliver in the playoffs. The difference is that the other guys haven't been acting like they’re trying to become the next Bachelor than a legend at the most storied franchise in Major League Baseball.
Through it all, A-Rod has tried to maintain a zen-like I’m-Ignoring-The-Rumors-And-Am-Here-Only-To-Play-Baseball demeanor, shrugging off the questions. If A-Rod had broken bats or punched Gatorade coolers – showed some degree of anger that he was benched – he might actually garnered some legitimate love from the fans. Instead, the only thing folks want now is to give him a one-way ticket out of town.
In a sense, the Yankee tradition is made up of its people more than its moments. It’s not just the 27 World Championships or 40 American League Pennants. It’s the Babe, Joe D, and Yogi. It’s Derek Jeter’s heart and Andy Pettitte’s stare. On baseball’s biggest stage, Yankees are supposed to embody a winning spirit. A-Rod gets paid a lot of money to perform on this stage too, but the irony is that he can't do the one piece of performance art that matters the most here – acting like he wants to win.