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Same Old Steinberenner; Same Old Rodriguez

by Gregory Pratt, Special to
October 30, 2007

George Steinbrenner was quite the character, at various points in his life a businessman, a victim of blackmail (by Richard Nixon, into joining the Republican Party, according to Tip O'Neill's Man of the House), a rival to certain baseball players and managers, and even a "pretend" boxer who made up a story about fighting Dodgers fans in 1981. Unfortunately for the Yankees, he isn't the dominant figure today that he used to be. Today, he's just a man who has been broken by dementia, and his sons have taken his Yankees from him as he loses his life to dementia, which is a fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy -- what Northeast baseball has historically been.

So you'd guess that I hate Steinbrenner, right? I have a long-established contempt for baseball teams with massive payrolls, and I am a middle-left Democrat, so you'd think that I hate Steinbrenner. I don't. On the contrary, I wish my favorite team had an owner who'd spring money for a top of the line stadium and push hard for a championship every year. I wish my team's owner were willing to rebel against Bud Selig here and then. I wish my team's owner were half the owner that George Steinbrenner was, no matter how much criticism I have for the King.

I was disappointed when I learned that his children would take over the business, but I couldn't have been happier today when Hank Steinbrenner channeled his father after Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract with the New York Yankees (shamelessly during the World Series):

"We really wanted him. We called his phone, called his home phone, to tell him how much we wanted him. We tried to get him, his wife and his agent to come [for a meeting]. If you want a comparison - you can quote me directly - look at Derek Jeter, who, since he was a little kid, he's wanted nothing out of life but to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. That's why he's at where he's at. On the other hand, you have certain players who don't understand that, how special that is. Unfortunately, it looks like that's the position Alex and Scott are in. Rodriguez for some reason wasn't comfortable being a Yankee. Obviously, you can't use anybody like that. I don't get it myself."

I just hope the Yankees maintain their position that they won't negotiate with Rodriguez now. For years, I've had trouble putting my finger on Alex Rodriguez and it had nothing to do with my hunch that he isn't all-natural; that he's as phony as Jose Canseco has alluded him to be. He's clearly the best hitter in baseball and he had a Gold Glove as a shortstop, but he's never been the man to me and, once again, it has little to do with his relatively meaningless post-Game Four of the 2004 ALCS post-season failures.

I know what I know about Rodriguez: he's the best hitter in the game and he's a fine player, all-around. But I don't like him, and it has nothing to do with his contract, either. I've been confused for a long time, but I think I've got a good idea after today.  He's always been an aloof-type player: arrogant, who never struck me as a genuine leader on the baseball diamond, whose teammates don't look up to him, whose numbers leave something to be desired, although I don't know what, or how to quantify it. He can't realistically do better than he has in the regular season. I know that. But I still don't care for him, and I think I've figured it out with help from Steinbrenner's declaration, and the revelation that swept over me: Alex Rodriguez doesn't want to be a Yankee.

It was an epiphany.

What kind of baseball player is Alex Rodriguez? A good one, sure. But is this a man to be idolized? To be admired? This man who is leaving the greatest team in the greatest baseball city the year before the greatest stadium in baseball history shuts down because he might get more money elsewhere or -- perhaps just as important -- because "the press" drove his wife to wear a disgusting "F-U" tank top at The Stadium and the fans boo him sometimes? He's leaving New York's Great Cathedral and he has the nerve to tell the world that it has to do with the "turmoil" facing the Yankees? With the fact that Mariano Rivera is destined to come back to the Stadium but all sides are posturing? Are you kidding me?

If he doesn't want to be a Yankee, that's fine. New York will be fine. Rodriguez will be, too, with the money and decreased pressure in whatever city he moves to. And isn't that what God intended when baseball was invented? That the man who wants to be the best in baseball, who is arguably the best in baseball, leaves the best city in baseball because of money and pressure? Baseball truly is a microcosm of everything that's wrong with America today: a lack of passion, drive and vision. It just disappoints me that Alex Rodriguez would use his "PIN" to buy anything other than a legacy as a Yankee. Someone should tell Alex Rodriguez that you can't buy a legacy with your PIN -- you have to earn it through hard work, not negotiation, and it doesn't matter what Scott Boras' book says.

Your name in baseball history isn't given to you on credit, and Alex Rodriguez has failed himself.

Gregory Pratt is a frequent contributor to Baseball Evolution who also runs a political weblog.
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