Atlas Slugged

Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest Yankees ever. And the whole world is on his back?

What accounts for this brutal treatment of the league's reigning MVP? There seems to be no simple explanation. "He inspires an incredible amount of jealousy," says Steven Goldman, columnist for, "more than any player I've ever seen. He's movie-star good-looking, fabulously wealthy, and probably the most talented player of our time. He plays hard and clean, and he's polite to everyone. And a lot of people seem to hate him for it."

The strange thing about the fury directed toward Alex Rodriguez is that few of the reasons given for it hold water. Let's consider those heard most often on the radio and the Internet:

"The fans are taking their frustrations with the team out on A-Rod." What frustrations? The Yankees have been in the playoffs for the first two years he's been with the team; in both seasons, the Yankees lost because of bad pitching, with staffs that finished above the league ERA average. Rodriguez can do many things on a baseball field, but he can't pitch.

This season, contrary to the press, the Yankees have actually played quite well and shown poise in the face of adversity under pressure. If Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, and Carl Pavano had not been out with injuries, or if the Yankees simply hadn't lost Robbie Cano, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Johnny Damon for so long, the Yankees would probably be in first by about 12 games and have the best record in baseball. You'd think Yankee fans would be applauding their team's show of heart instead of looking for someone to blame. As one fan wrote in to Bronx Banter, "I swear, some Yankees fans think a perfect day is when the Yankees win and A-Rod goes 0-4 with two errors."

"He isn't a product of the Yankee system." Neither were Babe Ruth or Reggie Jackson.

"He doesn't have a World Series ring." Don Mattingly, one of the best-loved players in Yankee history, never played in the World Series, and as Ray Robinson points out, Mantle was booed after winning five rings.

It's hard to think of a superstar in recent years who gets so little respect from his own press, in which he has been referred to, at various times, as Nay-Rod, Pay-Rod, and A-Fraud. Alex Rodriguez, born in New York, perhaps the greatest all-around player of his generation, the greatest Latin ballplayer of all time, and the fifth-greatest player in Yankee history after Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio—in most areas of personal accomplishment he is either ahead of or close to DiMaggio—is practically without support in his hometown.

But as fans are beginning to realize, the New York press, infiltrated by Boston homies such as the Daily News' Mike Lupica and ESPN's Peter Gammons, is ridiculously Red Sox–centric. The New York Times, which owns a minority stake in the Red Sox, leads the pack. As Eric Wolff asked in New York magazine (January 9), "Has the Times Gone Red Sox Crazy?" From October 12, 2005, the first day of the Yankees' off-season, to the first week in January, there were 105 articles mentioning the Red Sox, two more than the Yankees and 26 more than the Mets. "The paper's Boston coverage can be absurd," Wolff wrote. "Witness its infamous October 2003 pro-Sox editorial"—endorsing the Red Sox for the World Series over the Yankees—"What's going on? Too many Harvard grads on 43rd Street?"

The eye-opener was how little support A-Rod got last year for his second MVP award, with many local writers clamoring for the Red Sox's David Ortiz. A-Rod was equal or superior to Ortiz in all hitting stats, and in the field and on the bases he made contributions that Ortiz, a DH and a liability anywhere but in the batter's box, couldn't begin to match. Yet after the award was announced, the Daily News headlined "More Bling, but No Ring," while the New York Post said "MVP But . . . Lack of Rings Tarnishes A-Rod's Second AL Trophy." That's the way it goes for Rodriguez; if his team doesn't win it all, his awards are "tarnished."

More puzzling, at least to English-speaking fans, is why Latin fans, even A-Rod's fellow Dominicans, don't regard him as one of their own. Kevin Baker, novelist and baseball fan, remembers being at a Yankees–Red Sox game two seasons ago in New York and talking to a Dominican family of four who were all wearing Red Sox shirts. Why, Baker asked them, weren't they rooting for the Yankees? "We love Manny!"—Ramirez—they replied. "He grew up near us in Washington Heights." Then why don't you root for the Yankees? Baker asked, since Rodriguez was born there. "They were dumbfounded," Baker says. "They didn't know A-Rod was born in the Heights."

Two years ago, when I talked to Rodriguez for Interview magazine, he was overjoyed about the prospect of playing in what he called "my town." "I'm one of the few players," he told me, "who feels at home with both sides"—i.e., with both English- and Spanish-speaking fan bases. It now appears that the opposite may be true: He may be one of the few players uncomfortable with both sides. Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez was born on July 27, 1975, in New York of Dominican parents; when he was four, the family returned to Santo Domingo. When Papa Rodriguez's job didn't work out, they moved to Miami; shortly after, Alex's father left, alone, for New York. "I can count on one hand," he told sportswriter Tim Wendel, "the times I've talked to my father by phone since he left. I still don't understand how a parent can abandon a family." He has often hinted that his family's being deserted is one of the factors that drove him to therapy, making him perhaps the most prominent professional athlete to acknowledge that he sought help with his mental health. This apparently has not sat well with a number of fans on talk radio and online who want their superstars to project a more macho image and who regard anyone who admits to seeing a shrink as something of a whiner.

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