Sunday, November 20, 2005

Accentuate the Negative...

Right now, there's a wave crashing over baseball lovers everywhere, and the Yankee Faithful in particular. It's flood of dark, foul-smelling stuff that stains the soul and leeches the pleasure out of our National Pastime.

It's easy to see the symptoms--anger, jealousy, resentment. To give it a name, it is negativity. We're having a hard time looking at the bright side of life, and of the game we love.

Part of it is the whole steroid mess, which marked Baseball 2005 from before Spring Training (the leaked Jason Giambi testimony) to after the World Series (Matt Lawton, the rumored "outfielder on a playoff team" who tested positive). Like the Olympics, steroids in baseball has become the game-within-a-game: we get to constantly guess about every achievement we see, "Is it, you know, real?"

The bad vibe is cristalized by Bill Madden in the Daily News. Every year, Madden writes a column dedicated to baseball's "turkeys," folks which the all-seeing Madden deems worthy of our scorn. Last year, I railed against this practice on the old website (having trouble right now pulling up anything from there, so no link right now), but this year the practice just seems pathetic. Here's this year's list:

1. Rafael Palmeiro
2. Paul DePodesta
3. Ivan Rodriguez
4. Jose Lima
5. Sidney Ponson
6. Ken Kendrick
7. Sammy Sosa
8. Kevin McLatchy
9. Randy Johnson
10. Kaz Matsui

Now, there are some genuine twits in this bunch (Palmeiro, Ponson) and an interesting rant against Pirates owner Kevin McLatchy, who seems to be raking in the dough while playing it cheap on the baseball side of the operation. Still, Paul DePodesta is a worse guy than Ponson, with his two DWIs and judge-assaulting charge? For all those that charge DePodesta with "ruining the 2004 division-winners," they all seem to forget 1) DePo GMed the division-winning team, and 2) nearly none of the guys that DePodesta traded or let leave as free agents before this season did terribly well in 2005. Juan Encarnacion--here's a name no one was crying about in LA when he was traded--did best of the bunch. Paul "Heart & Soul" LoDuca hit an empty .283 for the Marlins, and Steve Finley, Adrian Beltre, Guillermo Mota all were huge disappointments. True, some of the guys DePodesta brought on to replace them stunk, also, but does anyone think that Adrian Beltre would have been better in Chavez Ravine? Steve Finley?

But the point of this isn't that Madden treated DePodesta badly, or that he was mean to Jose Lima (whose only crime was stinking. Why not blame the idiots who let him keep on taking the mound?), it's the list itself. This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Why is it that baseball is the sport where the writers make lists of the game's "turkeys"? In the NFL, the only turkey they ever seem to discuss is Terrell Owens, and steroids get mere lip service--even though the puniest lineman in the league is more pumped up than the most pneumatic major leaguer.

Locally Yankee fans seem to be more negative, and fearful, than ever before. Everyone's anxious because the relievers that the Yankees targeted--BJ Ryan, Scott Eyre--have thus far been immune to Joe Torre's siren call. There's no center fielder. These are troublesome things, and there's a decided lack of optimism about where this team is headed.

Worse than that has been the reaction of many fans to Alex Rodriguez's MVP award. Despite a number of big moments in the regular season this year, everyone can't stop talking about how un-clutch the man is. A few times since the Yanks were bounced from the Playoffs, I've had requests to analyze the emptiness of Rodriguez's contribution.

I'm working on it, but the question that gets me sometimes is, what am I doing this for? Did Alex do a lot of his hitting when his team was blowing out the opposition? I don't even have to look at his play-by-play data to say that the answer is yes. But is it inordinately so? To say that, you'd have to look at everyone's production, under all circumstances, to compare to A-Rod. This is a huge amount of work.

...And that's work I've never heard being focused on a single player before, in an attempt to show that the performance we see from him, the big home run and batting average numbers, are an illusion--that Rodriguez isn't as good as we think. Ugh. It's like the steroid thing all over again.

I think it's a worthwhile something to examine, but I don't like the tenor of the argument. I fee the purpose would be to denigrate, rather than to shed any light on the subject ("as you'll note from this graph right here, the thing that you have to really improve on is sucking when it counts the most"). Bill Gallo (also in the Daily News) puts it best:

Last week A-Rod promised that he would never touch a deck of cards again. Not while he's playing baseball, anyway. But for now, he won't even shuffle a deck to play hearts. Not even solitaire.

So, you see the man does have attributes. All we would want him to do would be to make one more promise.

It's this: Promise to never let your club, the New York Yankees, be second best. You must swear on a Bible you'll bring New York a World Series title all by yourself next year.

Alex Rodriguez had an excellent season, a sizeable improvement on 2004. He made some big contributions to keep this Yankees team on top of the division for the eighth straight season. These are facts. So, too, is it a fact that he performed very badly in a five-game playoff series. Everyone can see that. If he wants to get some respect, that's something he will have to improve. Can't we leave it at that?

1 comment:

lichmd said...

D,

I think you're missing my point. The man deserves his MVP, his numbers definitely helped win some games and definitely allowed the Yanks to pull themselves out of the incredible/embarassing hole they put themselves into at the beginning of the year. My issue is this, he appears to be one of the most fragile batters I've ever seen in the uniform. He's crapping his pants when he gets to the plate with the game on the line. And we can't win if he can't hit in clutch situations.
I have nothing against the man, nor do I begrudge him the MVP. I don't fall for the Papi was robbed theory either, the Sox weren't in as big a hole as the Yanks and AROD did carry them in August.
But the reality of the fact is I think he needs a sports psychiatrist or psychologist to help him overcome what appears to be an Anxiety disorder. My request for an analysis of his RBIs was to see if he was producing in "clutch" situations or if it was him staking the team to a large early lead or adding to a gaudy score.
I think that an analysis of the hitting situation when he produced the majority of his RBIs will demonstrate that he has no problem generating offense early in a game or when the game is "safely" being won.
An anonymous Yank told Lupica that some day soon AROD was going to have to not grip the bat so tight when he came up with the game on the line. I don't like Lupica, but I believe him.
Look at the numbers, I think they'll tell an interesting story