Yankees fans are a notoriously fickle bunch. Players who do not fit the mold of the “True Yankee” often find themselves drawing the home crowd’s ire whever they fail, while having their successes glossed over or ignored. Such has been the fate of Alex Rodriguez, as the radio waves and stadium seats are filled with people bemoaning his every failure while dismissing his achievements as being “unclutch.” However, the A-Rod phenomenon has an added layer of intrigue when compared to the typical “can’t do it in New York” fare. Every time Alex touches the field, he stands just a few feet to the right of Mr. Yankee himself, Derek Jeter.
Jeter and Alex were once friends, but Derek cast A-Rod aside for comments he made about him in an interview. When Alex came to the Yankees, he moved to third base to accommodate Derek, but his slow start and playoff failures did nothing to endear himself to the fans. Although some of the frostiness between the two players has apparently dissolved over the years, fans began to view the two players as rivals, and a divide among the faithful emerged. You could be pro-Jeter, holding him up as the paragon of what a ballplayer should be while deriding A-Rod as a stat padder who always attracted negative publicity. Or, you could be pro-Alex, marveling at his insane talent while wondering why Jeter would not support him. Most people root for both, hoping that they would succeed for the team’s sake, but everybody picked a side. Personally, I find myself leaning increasingly towards Alex. It gets harder all the time, and never more so than with today’s news about his positive steroid test.
The debate typically follows some fairly obvious lines, oft repeated and fairly accurate. Wherever Derek is strong, Alex is weak, and fans love to harp on those points. Derek is the humble kid who calls his manager Mr. Torre and leads by example. Alex is the flamboyant slugger who struggles to fit in and is not loved by teammates. Derek frequently has his parents at games and dates all the hot young starlets. Alex cheats on his wife and then dumps her for an over the hill, slightly creepy crooner. Derek is Mr. Super Clutch, while Alex is Mr. Can’t Do It In The Big Spot. If Derek went 1-12 on a homestand and Alex went 11-12, people would always focus on that one anomalous result for both.
And yet, for all the drama that stuck to A-Rod, for all the points within this comparison at which he failed, it really makes no difference at the end of the day. He is the better ballplayer, and that is all that matters to those who defend Alex. When their careers are finished, Jeter is likely to be considered among the top 10 shortstops of all time. A-Rod will be viewed as one of the top 10 players of all time. He is just incredibly talented, and his numbers would always be his saving grace in the comparison to Derek. Until now.
Now, everything is shrouded in doubt. Was he ever clean? How much of his production can be attributed to steroids? Considering that 103 other players also tested positive, it seems unfair that A-Rod will have to deal with these questions as if he was the only player whose numbers were tainted. However, the fact is that he took steroids, and now he will have to reap what he has sown. It becomes almost impossible to defend A-Rod at this point. Although plenty of players were doing it, plenty of players were not, and Alex just chose the wrong side of that dichotomy to be on. As far as we know at this point, Derek was clean, and Alex was not. For now, the debate is over.
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