Don't Hate A-Rod: He's One of the Cleanest Yankee Greats Ever

Gambling accusations are just the latest empty reason for the media to beat up on the star

alex rodriguez arod 615 reuters.jpg

Reuters

When the news broke a week or so ago about Alex Rodriguez having participated in "illegal" high-stakes poker games back in 2009, the sports media rode it as if it was the second coming of the Pete Rose betting-on-baseball scandal. As of this morning, the story seems to have faded so quickly that some are wondering whether Commissioner Bid Selig will even bother to meet with A-Rod.

Why did the media jump on this one so hard? Could it be that they're really out to get him for his known association with gangsters, or for assaulting a fan in the stands, or for contracting syphilis?

How about holding out for more money at a time of great national hardship, or for causing a scandal when he kicked open the hotel door of a famous actress he had been married to?

It's becoming increasingly obvious that his real sins are being handsome, talented, young, wealthy, famous, and notoriously shallow.

Maybe for venting his wrath after striking out by smashing water coolers in the dugout? Or for a string of affairs with show girls? Or for public drunkenness on numerous occasions?

Perhaps for punching out his manager in the dugout on national television? Or bragging to the press, "I am the straw that stirs the drink"?

The answer is “no” to all of the above. The offenders in these instances were, in order, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio (the famous actress, of course, was Marilyn Monroe), Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson.

It's sobering to think about it, considering the huge amount of bad press Alex Rodriguez has garnered since coming to New York eight seasons ago. In fact, by the standards of Yankees superstar history, Rodriguez's behavior seems almost schoolboyish. Just what crimes, exactly, has Alex Rodriguez been guilty of?

None, really. In fact, just about everything you've heard about his transgressions is either exaggerated or just plain wrong. Let's start with the taint that followed him to New York: the curse of the ten-year, $252 million contract. Legend has it that the deal put Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks in a financial hole that it took the team years to dig out of.

Hicks did screw up the Rangers' finances, but it didn't have anything to do with A-Rod. For some reason, the media has usually chosen to overlook the fact that the Rangers, just prior to acquiring Rodriguez, negotiated a ten-year, $250 million cable agreement hooked to the team's signing a major Latin star, their research having determined that Hispanics were a huge, largely untapped market for cable.

What Hicks did was make the cable deal and pass on the money to Rodriguez while signing baseball's biggest gate attraction, and then reap the profits from ticket sales and merchandise.

Oh, by the way, the Steinbrenners picked up A-Rod from the Rangers at a bargain price. They only had to pay half his salary, with Hicks picking up the balance. How much of a bargain was that for the Yankees? Think of it this way: Derek Jeter, who's never approached A-Rod's production at the plate or in the field, has cost the Yankees more than Rodriguez, and now the Yankees are stuck with Jeter in his rapidly declining years.

Second, there is the rap that has plagued A-Rod since his first Yankees playoff game—the idea that he doesn't show up in the big games. Bill James has observed that once a player gets a reputation as a clutch hitter, he never seems to lose it. The inverse also seems to be true: When a guy becomes known—rightly or wrongly—for not being able to hit in the most important games, nothing he does can ever seem to dispel that notion.

In A-rod's case, however, the numbers just don't support the reputation: In 63 World Series and playoff games and 231 at-bats, Rodriguez has hit .290 with 13 home runs for a .396 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging average.

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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