ARod’s Behavior Bush League
This isn’t about some phantom etiquette that Josh Beckett seems to have anointed himself the spokesman of when he screams at hitters for "disrespecting the game" while punching his fist and gesturing after strikeouts; nor is it some Curt Schilling self-righteous rant about how Ben Davis breached that etiquette when he bunted to break up a Schilling no-hit bid while pitching for the Diamondbacks. This is about crossing a competitive line that shouldn’t be crossed in the interests of sportsmanship.
In last night’s game between the Yankees and Blue Jays, the Yankees led 8-5 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning; Alex Rodriguez was on second base as Jorge Posada hit a pop-up on the left side of the infield; Blue Jays third baseman Howie Clark camped himself under the ball and was set to make the catch to end the inning and keep the Blue Jays within reasonable striking distance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. ARod, as he was passing behind Clark, screamed something in the rookie’s ear to distract him into either thinking that shortstop John McDonald was calling him off or that something else had happened for Clark to step away. The scream has been related as: "HEY!" or "HA HA". Whatever it was, the ball dropped behind Clark, all runners were safe and the Yankees scored two more runs in the inning to take a 10-5 lead. The Blue Jays were incensed by the gamesmanship and McDonald had to be restrained from going after ARod; Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said something to ARod as the manager was leaving the field after a brief argument about the controversial play; and catcher Jason Phillips received a stern face-to-face with the home plate umpire after he evidently said something to Jason Giambi.
All things being equal, the play wasn’t against the rules, and it probably didn’t affect the outcome; but the question becomes: Was it appropriate?
While I completely disagree with the gesturing and screaming of people like Beckett; and I think that Schilling was a hypocritical and whiny baby about the incident with Davis, there is something different about ARod’s behavior last night in comparing it with other such circumstances. I’ve openly questioned why so many people around the league dislike Alex Rodriguez. I thought it was simple jealousy at ARod’s limitless talents and immense salary. But the more I see incidents like last night; the more I remember his incessant whining and self-indulgent attempts at introspection from last season; and remember the incident during the 2004 ALCS in which he slapped the ball from Bronson Arroyo’s glove as Arroyo was about to tag him, a clear pattern of behavior emerges. That pattern of behavior is that ARod crosses the line between competitiveness and babyish antics.
Gibbons was quoted as saying: "Everybody in this business, they all look at the Yankees — they dothings right. They play hard. Class operation. That’s what the Yanks
are known for. That’s not Yankee baseball." And he’s right. The Yankees of the championship years would do almost anything to beat their opponents; but they seemed to confine that to what happens on the field. Sure, they would use advantages when they were available, but can you picture Derek Jeter doing something like what ARod did last night? If he did, I would expect him—-and I’m serious about this—-to receive a stern talking to about fair play in competition from his parents. But then, Jeter wouldn’t do something like that, so the point is moot.
This all may be part of a larger symptom for the Yankees. Third base coach Larry Bowa—-who screamed at Orioles centerfielder Corey Patterson for stealing bases with a large lead last season—-came precariously close to condemning the play when saying that if ARod had screamed "I got it" that it would be wrong, but what he did do was legal. Reading between the lines, Bowa couldn’t have liked the play either. ARod’s explanation seems to be that the Yankees have been playing poorly and need to take every advantage they can to break themselves out of this funk; but do they really want to win this way? Do they want teams to dislike them for reasons other than the quiet confidence that they exhibited in the championship years and resort to dirty tricks to win games?
Old school Yankees like Jeter and Posada surely didn’t agree with it and there aren’t many more hard-nosed and aggressive players in baseball than those two. An old-school manager like Joe Torre probably would prefer his players didn’t do such things. The same can be said for guys like Jim Leyland with the Tigers and Willie Randolph with the Mets; their players do whatever they have to do to win, but they do it aggressively and within the confines of reasonable baseball etiquette.
There are times and places for such etiquette. In the Schilling-Davis incident, the Diamondbacks only led 2-0; if the game was 10-0, it probably would have been inappropriate for a no-hitter to be broken up in such a way; but with the game close, the Padres have to try and win and not worry about Curt Schilling’s no-hit bid. ARod’s act was called bush league by Gibbons; I’m sure that many of the non-commenting Yankees agree with that assessment. With each passing day as Alex Rodriguez’s character becomes more and more apparent, it becomes clearer why he is such a disliked figure throughout baseball. He’s probably the most talented baseball player I’ve ever seen; but that big league talent seems to have come complete with a bush league attitude.