I came across a photo today that brought me to a realization I did not expect, and one that might be a bit of hyperbole (this is an MLBlog, after all) – A-Rod is the most entertaining baseball player of my lifetime.
The circumstances surrounding this photo are pretty basic and bland: The Yankees were taking their generic annual portraits for the media. However, in the wide shot of the photographer taking the picture of A-Rod, we see that this is all happening in some random men’s bathroom, with three urinals in the background. I enjoy everything about this picture … it’s currently the background photo on my laptop, and I honestly want to print it on some nice glossy paper and frame it.
Now, I’m not saying A-Rod is the best player of my lifetime; that’s certainly open for debate – especially with Albert Pujols around, plus A-Rod’s PED past, and he even has some competition for most entertaining, the most obvious being Manny Ramirez, but I think Manny hit his high water mark with Mannywod in Los Angeles during the 2008 season, and it’s all sort of been downhill since (although I’m glad he’s back with the A’s … maybe he’s got one last run left, however I thought that was going to be the case with the Rays last season, and that obviously didn’t work out). I’ll even throw Ichiro and his 200-hit seasons, “If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying” quote and Ichiro-designed T-Shirt nights into the mix, but he comes across as more enigmatic that entertaining. A-Rod, on the other hand … I’m going to list, without any Googling, some memorable A-Rod moments, both on and off the field:
Stripper in Toronto; poker game; three home runs off Bartolo Colon; Kate Hudson; Cameron Diaz feeding him popcorn; “loosey goosey” PED defense; calling reporter who broke PED news a “stalker;” two-homer, seven-RBI game to end ’09 season; Get off my mound; homering in first at-bat of ’09 season; ending the past two Yankees postseasons with strikeouts; yelling “Hah!” in Toronto; fight with Varitek; announcing extension with Yanks during ’07 World Series; slapping the ball away in 2004 ALCS; driving home Damon after Damon’s double steal in ’09 World Series Game 4; kissing himself in the mirror; centaur painting rumor …
I’m going to stop there, and I’ve surely left out a lot of other moments. A-Rod is not my favorite player of all-time, not even close (that would be Yankees legend Bernie Williams), and I also grew up watching two future Hall of Famers, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who have had plenty of memorable moments of their own; but have they been as entertaining as A-Rod? I don’t think so. More respected? Definitely. More easy to root for? Certainly. Do I expect/want them to be any more than elite baseball players who have helped and continue to help the Yankees win games? No. But A-Rod, for good reasons and bad, has been so, so entertaining throughout his career, especially since he first signed with the Yankees in 2004.
Outside of diehard Yankees fans, kids and maybe men/women who find him overly attractive, A-Rod is, obviously, not a beloved figure. The rest is generally broken down to people who respect his immense talent but think he’s a bit of a diva/phony, and those who think he’s just an outright chump. The diva/phony thing, while probably true, is a label I can’t really hold against A-Rod. This is a guy who was an elite big league player at 20, signed the biggest contract of all-time by the time he was 25, then joined the most famous franchise in his sport only after their biggest rival was blocked from trading for him in 2004. Should we expect someone like this to be some normal dude? I know people will point to Jeter and Pujols as MLB megastars who have managed to avoid the types of negative tabloid headlines A-Rod has brought on, but those two also are overly protective of their private lives, and don’t really show you anything about themselves outside of their performance on the field (which I’m 100% fine with). Plus, if the NY Post is to be believed (and who wouldn’t believe them?), Jeter leaves gift baskets for ladies after a night out with a bunch of signed autographs … and that’s A-Rodian levels of bizarre behavior, if true.
A-Rod’s weird behavior also always seems to come from an honest place of obliviousness. There are some “characters” in MLB, like Derek Holland, Brian Wilson and Logan Morrison, who, while on occasion pretty entertaining, seem to be trying really (and sometimes way too) hard at being entertaining. A-Rod, on the other hand – especially the off the field stuff – seems like he just can’t help it, and I find that a bit more endearing.
Finally (ending this like a high school book report), there’s how entertaining A-Rod can be when he’s at his best as a Hall of Fame caliber baseball player. Back in 2007, I was at a Yankees/Orioles game in the first week of April featuring a pitching matchup of Steve Trachsel vs. Kei Igawa, and this was moving along as one of those forgettable early-season games where you go, have an alright time at the ballpark, and never think of the game again. Igawa and Trachsel were both pretty terrible, Trachsel was his usual slow-pitching self and the Yankees were trailing by a run with two outs in the ninth. Then, single, walk, HBP, and A-Rod steps up to the plate with that glorious chance to be the hero or the goat. He gets himself into a two-strike count; my roommate (and Mets fan … but he got me a free ticket to the game, so he’s A-OK) is outright laughing about how great it will be to watch A-Rod choke, then – BOOM! – ball goes flying into the black at old Yankee Stadium, walk-off grand slam.
He may not be the best, but he’ll get himself photographed wandering around Central Park shirtless and hit walk-off grand slams, and, to paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb, the quest to be entertaining is not a sin.
Thanks (that’s for @sportsangle).