I often think that when people discuss Alex Rodriguez, they use buzzwords they've previously seen used to describe him, without really considering how well they apply to the current situation. "Choker," "fraud," "liar," "history's greatest monster," there's a lot of them. But "distraction" is the one getting bandied about most at the moment. Rodriguez's return during what will likely be a long (and annoying) appeal process is supposedly going to serve as a distraction to his teammates in the clubhouse. But after watching another punchless, feckless effort on Sunday against the San Diego Padres, the question entered my mind: "What kind of distraction is Alex Rodriguez to a team that's struggling this badly on offense and has only two reliable starters right now?" Is a distraction from getting beaten by a sub-par team and a former Yankee pitcher really the worst thing in the world to have happen to a team?
To me, taking all precautions to avoid distractions/preserve clubhouse chemistry is a luxury for good teams. When everything is running smoothly and the team is performing well, you try to avoid inviting foreign elements that may disrupt the harmony that winning has helped form in the locker room. The 1998 Yankees had that luxury. The 2013 Yankees do not. The 2013 Yankees are already distracted. Being four games behind the final Wild Card position is distracting. Watching Phil Hughes work fewer than three innings while getting smoked by an average lineup in a pitcher's park is distracting. Not having won back-to-back games in over three weeks is distracting. When on their flight to Chicago for tonight's game, which realization do you think was most concerning to the Yankees' players and staff: that Alex Rodriguez will be there to meet them or that they're a completely average team?
Don't be under the impression that I'm trying to downplay the feeding frenzy that is awaiting those very Yankees when they meet up with their full-time news item/occasional starting third baseman. I'm sure it's going to be a miserable experience for a lot of those players answering question after question about Alex's return and impending suspension. But it's not like they wouldn't be doing that anyway, or weren't already doing that. At least now the baggage that comes with being Rodriguez's teammate will have a living, breathing non-Brent Lillibridge hitter attached to it. A hitter who, for better or worse, is one of the best ever at abusing baseballs. A player that is, by all accounts, a pretty good teammate, which means once the circus gets onto the field the distractions will be able to stay behind.
So when every tabloid in New York is bemoaning what a distraction Alex Rodriguez is going to be to his teammates and coaches, remember what's coming. In a very short period of time, if things do not turn around for this team, the questions about A-Rod are going to be interspersed more and more frequently with ones concerning why the Yankees aren't going to make the playoffs. If Rodriguez can help delay those questions for at least a little while longer, I'm sure his distractions won't seem so bad, even for players who didn't want him to come back ever again.
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