Monday, July 2, 2007

A-Rod's True Test

Alex Rodriguez's current contract has an opt-out clause which he can exercise this season. There has been a lot of back and forth as to whether he'll actually opt-out, stand-pat, or use the leverage of his amazing season and the threat of the clause to extract a lucrative contract extension from the Yankees.

I'll leave analysis of the the financial incentives at play to those who know what the hell they're talking about. In the meantime, I will go on record and say that no matter how much money Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner's guardian offer him, A-Rod is not playing in New York next year.

Why? Because of stories like this in today's New York Post:

Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez's long-suffering wife, Cynthia, may have
finally flipped her pretty lid yesterday when she went to a game in The Bronx
wearing a tight-fitting, white tank top bearing a foul message on the back: "F-
- - you."

The obscene phrase was plainly visible to thousands of fans - including
plenty of kids - as she, her 2-year-old daughter, Natasha, and an older woman
took their seats in the players' family section of the House that Ruth
Built. "[One] father, was so embarrassed, he got up and left and
took his son," who appeared to be about 10 years old, a fan said.

The shirt my have been in poor taste, but the article is truly pathetic. Setting aside the phony moralizing about how the team's policy "prohibits any banners or signs that are not in good taste and also warns that security guards will eject any guests using foul language or making obscene gestures" -- surely this is not the first instance of profanity in Yankee Stadium since Babe Ruth built it with his bare hands in 11 A.D. -- the article is a mean-spirited attack on a defenseless target.

Of course this isn't the first time the Post has slammed Cynthia Rodriguez. Last month, in the wake of the A-Rod infidelity scandal (my take: arguably newsworthy, but not worthy of the amount of news it got), the Post's Andrea Peyser decided that blaming the victim was the best way to go, claiming that she was either a "dimwitted doormat" or a willingly blind dupe who would endure being cuckolded in order to keep up appearances. The possibility that a mother of a toddler whose husband spends half of his time in other cities could have actually been taken by surprise apparently made no sense to the Post's editorial board.

You don't have to be pedantic media ethicist to hold the opinion that writers should treat players' families like button-men treat the consigliere in a mob war: hands off the civilians unless they get into the muscle end of the business themselves. Sure, some like Anna Benson willingly avail themselves to the media spotlight, but Cynthia Rodriguez has done no such thing, and going after her like the Post has is unseemly and mean spirited. It's also the sort of thing that, if I were A-Rod, would have me already packing my bags and telling Scott Boras to start scanning the real estate listings in Newport Beach, Lake Forest, and Grosse Pointe.

Of course I don't think the New York Post's editorial staff is all that worried about the baseball implications of Rodriguez leaving because there's always someone new to attack (Jose Reyes, your press agent is on line 2), but they have always seemed to take a special joy in bashing A-Rod, and helping to drive him out of town will rob the Post of its favorite scandal fodder. The last one will be a doozy, though. When he opts out in November, the very same Post that spent years explaining the many ways in which A-Rod is not a "true Yankee," took every opportunity it could to question his drive, skill, work ethic, and nerve, splashed the whole affair-affair on its pages for days, and then wrote a series of juvenile hit pieces about his wife will be the first to turn around and pretend to be outraged and betrayed at his alleged disloyalty.

People have spilled gallons of ink in the past three years debating the thickness of A-Rod's skin and his ability to handle the pressure of the New York press. I'm not sure what to think of all of that, other than to say that every moment he has actually paid attention to the New York press has been a wasted moment. He's a ballplayer, not a politician. If he's worried about being loved, he all he needs to do is knock the cover off the ball and pick it at the hot corner. If I were his advisor, I'd make sure that the only thing he reads with his cornflakes every morning is the Family Circus.

At least until now. Things are different when one's family is in the cross-hairs. Even those men with mere trace amounts of testicular fortitude -- as some have claimed A-Rod to possess -- will go out of their way to protect their family from outside attack, even when their own behavior towards them isn't all that honorable.

If there was ever a time for A-Rod to drop the pretense that he doesn't care what the press says and come out in defense of his wife, it's now. The extent to which he does that will tell us more about his character than a season's worth of walk-off home runs.