A-Rod is in a mess. Hitting .130 in the playoffs this year and .164 in the last three postseasons, he was benched for a pinch-hitter in game 5 of the ALDS and didn’t make an appearance at all in game 3 of the ALCS (in which his replacement, Eric Chavez, went 0 for 3). This wouldn’t matter if the Yankees were winning, but they’re not. In fact, 3-0 down in the series as I write this, they may be out of the playoffs by the time this hits the press. The Detroit Tigers, with their sketchy bullpen and wobbly lineup, are grinding the Yankees down.
Kobe Bryant, the Mount Vesuvius of self-confidence and the Sultan of Superiority, has been trying to fix the situation with A-Rod and generously shared with the media the psychological pointers he’d given to his friend in private:
“You’re Alex Rodriguez. You’re A-Rod. You’re one of the best to ever do it.”
This of course is true. A-Rod, in 18 years as a major leaguer, is a .300 hitter with 647 home runs and 1,950 RBI’s – ludicrous numbers, all of them. The grace, power and relentless hitting of his first 14 or so years constitute, in their own right, one of the best careers in the history of the sport.
But everyone knows this and so far Kobe’s stating the obvious, before suddenly he veers off the tracks and tumbles headlong down the embankment of veracity into the ditch of delusion:
“We’re different…but you’re talking about…he’s one of the best to ever play. I think really the difference is, sometimes he forgets he’s the best. … Where, I don’t.”
That would be 0 for 2 with a pair of strikeouts for Mr Bryant. You see, nobody in the NBA thinks Kobe is the best anymore. Everyone thinks he’s excellent, many think he is still great, and he’s got those 5 rings, but the best? Not for a few years.
A-Rod’s not been close to being the best for four years now. For a while that unofficial mantle sat on the shoulders of Albert Pujols, but he seemed to start ageing around the time he signed a 10 year, $240m dollar contract with the Angels. Truth is, A-Rod can’t catch up to serious heat inside, and can frequently be found waving at slow stuff outside. He doesn’t have the power that he used to (bye bye steroids), and he doesn’t see the ball early enough to hit for the average or on-base percentage that he used to. And he’s been battling injuries for several years.
So all Kobe’s really doing is setting A-Rod up for a fall, especially if the Yankee sort-of-slugger buys into the lie that he’s just a few positive thoughts away from being the masher of old.
Now I know you need belief. You need to believe every time you go to the plate that you can and will hit that ball. That’s a very standard and utterly necessary form of self-delusion. But to work to convince yourself that you’re the best in baseball sets up a whole new series of unreachable expectations that were the bane of A-Rod’s first couple of years in New York, where his performance took a dive as he tried to prove to everyone the very thing Bryant’s lying to him about now.
Kobe finished off by saying, “I think sometimes he kind of forgets that and wants to try to do the right thing all the time. Which is the right team attitude to have. But other times you really have to put your head down and say, ‘Hell with it’ and just do your thing.”
“Doing the right thing” was a reference to the lack of bitter complaint at being benched. So what should A-Rod really have done? Thrown the Gatorade cooler across the dugout to prove to Kobe, the media…whoever…that he hates being left out? Seriously? Maybe if he swung harder it would help? Or swung at everything?
If A-Rod was a childish tantrum away from being great again, I’d be delighted for him, but he’s not. Unfortunately for A-Rod, his own personal mess has obscured the larger mess that is Yankees hitting in general. Who is asking about Robinson Cano, the Yankees’ best hitter who is currently 3 for 36 in the postseason? Or cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira, who’s 2 for 29?
What’s Kobe’s advice to them? Do they need to remember that they’re the best too?