There is Mariano Rivera, who defines dignity and civility and may be the finest person many of us have met covering baseball for 40-something years. No matter whether the Yankees make the playoffs, or not, these final weeks of his glorious career should be his, a celebration of what is good and great in baseball.
There are the Yankees as a team, who have seen Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix and Reid Brignac play more games at shortstop than Derek Jeter. These are the Yankees of C.C. Sabathia, who never asks out of a joust no matter how he’s going, and Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira and Hiroki Kuroda and Curtis Granderson and David Robertson and Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner and a bunch of guys who could have gone for the cheeseburgers at P.J. Clarke’s and instead kept fighting and stayed in the race for the post-season as long as they could with whatever they have. Not to mention Joe Girardi. They lose three straight games to the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium in which they scored eight or more runs and still came back and fought out a fourth game walkoff, then came back Monday night with Girardi and Buck Showalter going at one another like they’re Sparky Anderson and Tony La Russa in their heydays.
Yet the closer they scrap and scrape towards the possibility of making the play-in game and the post-season, the larger the waves grow. If, indeed, the Yankees are still alive in their final weekend against traditional rival Houston, the story won’t be Rivera’s farewell or Jeter’s future or Cano’s destination. It will be all about Alex Rodriguez.
Few of us really know what Major League Baseball actually has on ARod. We are told they have enough on him to fill a wing in Cooperstown and that when his hearing appealing MLB’s suspension is finished he’ll wish he’d never paid his lawyers for his hours in court, but we don’t necessarily know anything close to everything. Rodriguez recently said “there’s a lot to this story I want to get out there,” and we will listen, because it’s his right to appeal and be heard.
Look, on the morning of September 10th the Yankees were essentially out of the race for first place, 10 ½ games behind Boston. After losing to the Orioles in Baltimore, they trailed the Rangers, Rays, Indians and Orioles for the wild card with nine more games remaining on this trip to Baltimore, Boston and Toronto.
But 3 ½ games is not insurmountable, and if they get home with a shot at a play-in game to host the Rays and Giants before finishing the regular season at Houston, it is Baseball’s worst nightmare.
This isn’t to say Alex is the worst anything; he remains a prisoner of his insecurities, a man who must live with what could have, would have been yet for his insatiable need to be the best, a man constantly reminded not of what he did to get within hailing distance of Willie Mays’ home run totals, but what he said and didn’t say.
If the Yankees do go down to the final weekend and/or play in the post-season, he becomes the focus of the sport. While the skillfully-crafted images of Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre living for October are intended for our consciousness, it will be about ARod and steroids.
Rival managers and players will whisper their concerns that Rodriguez came back and got the Yankees where they are because he’s got something tests haven’t detected. Then the echoes will resound with the question: how definitive are the tests? None of the dozen suspended players were disciplined because of failed tests, only by evidence uncovered tying them to the Biogenesis Lab in Miami. Which, a decade after the implementation of the strictest testing in sports will be fodder for talk show callers who want to call and question who is and isn’t still employing chemists who are two steps ahead of the testers.
Right now, we do not really know what Rodriguez did and didn’t do, what he did or didn’t buy from the Biogenesis people, whom he did or didn’t steer to Anthony Bosch. Right now, we don’t know if Rodriguez and his lawyers have a legitimate case, or whether, as my Psych profs would say, this is the classic case of self-absorption turned into delusion, and he has convinced himself he is the victim of a monstrous conspiracy because he is ARod.
What we do know is that baseball does not want Rodriguez grabbing the spotlight from Jason Heyward’s valiant return or Koji Uehara, Max Scherzer or Zack Greinke. With the possibility that Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and others may be gone after this season, the Yankees need to move on, focus on Jeter having the off-season conditioning he did not have last winter and begin the restoration.
Those of us who genuinely like Alex Rodriguez long for a day when he can move on from the reflections of whatever he sees in the mirror. But he has earned the right to postpone that date with reality. And if somehow he takes off on a month-long tear and heroically carries the Yankees into a one game post-season date with the Rangers, of all teams, he will have done immeasurable harm to the game that he plays so well, a game that provided him the stage he so embraces.
A lifelong Yankee fan friend this weekend said, “I would love to see these Yankees make it to the post-season again, but deep down, the only scenario that would truly make me happy is if they do it with ARod sidelined with a pulled hamstring. The perfect Yankee wild card game would have him in the hearing room–and on the disabled list– while Mariano closes out the ninth inning and brings the Division Series back to Yankee Stadium.”
This isn’t “Pride of the Yankees.” That isn’t going to happen, not that way. Every important game the Yankees win as September rolls into October will end with a closeup of Alex Rodriguez, Bud Selig’s worst nightmare.