2005-06-24 / Sports

Can Arod Prove To Fans That He Is Valuable?

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

Alex Rodriguez watches the ball take flight as he hits a solo home run in the New York Yankees’ 13 run 8th inning last Tuesday night in a 20-11 victory over Tampa Bay. He currently leads the major leagues in home runs and RBI. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)Alex Rodriguez watches the ball take flight as he hits a solo home run in the New York Yankees’ 13 run 8th inning last Tuesday night in a 20-11 victory over Tampa Bay. He currently leads the major leagues in home runs and RBI. (AP Photo/Ed Betz) What is a “true Yankee” anyway? Is there a jury of fans or players that decides whether or not a certain player is worthy of “induction” in this exclusive club? Maybe you have to be a classy player like Don Mattingly? Well, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth didn’t exactly abide by the rules, yet one is the most recognizable name in the world while the other was the hero for millions of baseball fans in the 1950s, so that won’t work.

How about Reggie Jackson? The self-proclaimed “straw that stirs the drink” played only five of his 21 Major League seasons with the Yankees,. But his performance in the 1977 World Series in which he hit three homers in three consecutive at bats cemented his status as a “big-game” player and earned him the nickname “Mr. October.”

Now, almost three decades later, a similar star has come to New York after establishing himself as arguably the best hitter in baseball. Alex Rodriguez joined the Yankees prior to the 2004 season at the age of 28, already a feared hitter as well as an MVP and batted .286 with 36 homers and 106 RBI. Great numbers to be sure, but compared to his three-year average of .305 52 132 with the Rangers, its understandable fans of the Bombers were a bit disappointed.

A-Rod hasn’t had the opportunity to play in the World Series yet. He came close last year, coming within an out along with the rest of his teammates before the Boston Red Sox staged an epic comeback to win the ALCS in seven games. Rodriguez played well – like most of his teammates – until Game 4 of the Sox series, and then went into a tailspin.

Clearly, the difference between Jackson and A-Rod is that Reggie was able to save his best for the big stage, and so far, Rodriguez hasn’t.

Succeeding in New York is the toughest thing to do, whether it is in business or sports. The list of players who have had good-to-great Major League careers and then come to New York before struggling is too long to list. But with a year in New York now behind him, A-Rod is putting up the kind of numbers he did in Seattle and Texas.

He’s blasted three dingers in one game and recently became the youngest player in Major League history to reach 400 career homers. The 29-year-old slugger is hitting .322 to go along with an MLB-best 20 home runs and 63 RBI, numbers that project to 46 longballs and 144 runs driven in.

No Yankee has posted stats like that since Mickey Mantle in his prime, and no right hander has done so since the great Joe DiMaggio. In fact, Rodriguez is on pace to drive in more runs than any Yankee not named Ruth, Gehrig or DiMaggio.

But still, A-Rod has to answer questions about whether he is a “true Yankee.” Several members of the Red Sox torched him this spring, questioning his integrity and saying he would never measure up to Yankees like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Even more interesting was his teammate’s response: nothing. No one defended Rodriguez from the Sox’ verbal assault, leading to speculation that maybe A-Rod was not liked by his teammates.

Of course, it didn’t help matters much when in last year’s Game 6, A-Rod slapped the ball out of Boston starter Bronson Arroyo’s glove and then stood on second base with a “what did I do look?” on his face. Some viewed the play as an act of desperation, trying to do anything to help his team win. Others saw it as a bush-league play, indicative of the type of player he is sometimes perceived as.

Whatever the reasons, A-Rod continues to search for his place among Yankee-lore. He’ll obviously have the numbers – barring injury – to rank him among the all-time greats. Rodriguez still has five years left on his contract, which means he’ll be still be only 35 years of age when the deal is up.

What will his legacy be? A few World Series titles would certainly vault him into the good graces of Yankees fans, but will he ever join the pantheon of greats before him in the inner-circle? Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson, Mattingly and Jeter watch and wait.

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