Alex Rodriguez didn’t need the help — that’s the sad part. He didn’t need the drugs or the childish antics because, when you get right down to it, he’s one of the 10 most talented players in baseball history.
And so, as A-Rod enters the final two days of his playing career — one in Boston, one in New York — let’s not confuse the issue. He wasn’t clutch — at least not in New York. And he wasn’t exactly likable. Simply put, Alex Rodriguez never learned how to compete, how to deal with the fact that lots of people after high school had nearly the same talent he did. And lest there be any doubt, we said nearly, because there just weren’t many players who could do the things he could on a baseball field.
Ken Griffey could. Same for Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. After that, try finding the players who could hit, run, field and throw the way Rodriguez could, all while playing in the middle of the diamond. (Aaron, remember, began his minor league career as a shortstop, something that speaks to his overall athleticism.) If Rodriguez were clutch, a winner, he’d have been regarded as, well, Derek Jeter on steroids.
Understand what I’m getting at here? Barry Bonds couldn’t really throw. Ted Williams couldn’t run or play defense. Baseball history is littered with arguments framed to include some players and eliminate others. But focusing on the classic five tools — hitting for power, hitting for average, running, fielding, throwing — A-Rod was as gifted as just about anyone.
If you can’t see that, well, then you can’t see past your personal distaste for him. And make no mistake: it’s personal.
Don’t take this as some sort of admonishment though. You have every right to dislike Rodriguez. He just made it so easy. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note how someone like Bonds seems far more respected than A-Rod, which should not be confused with likability. Bonds was angry, defiant, boorish. Rodriguez was really just sad.
What are the defining moments in Rodriguez’ career? One is trying to swat away Bronson Arroyo’s tag in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and Yankees. Another is shouting at the third baseman — like an irritating middle schooler — in a game at Toronto.
Last night, in the Yankees’ eventual win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Rodriguez pinch-hit. He was booed mercilessly — and endlessly. The crowd didn’t relent during his entire at-bat and trot back to the dugout after a fly out to right field. Again, contrast this with the positive reception given Jeter in his final Boston visit two years ago. The booing of Rodriguez had absolutely nothing to do with his being a Yankee.
So what’s the ultimate conclusion here? That Rodriguez will go down as one of the truly sad figures in baseball history, something far closer to Shoeless Joe Jackson or Pete Rose than Mays, Griffey or Mantle. And we all know he should have been in the latter group. Jackson, for his part, is now regarded as something of a tragic figure and someone unjustly accused, but it took decades for him to get there.
Alex Rodriguez will never get the same benefit of the doubt.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.