"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Great Expectations

There’s been lots of talk here and elsewhere about Mark Teixeira’s painfully slow start this season, but I always felt like the most interesting angle had nothing to do with his hitting.  The only question worth asking, I think, was why didn’t anyone care that he wasn’t hitting?  Every Yankee has heard the boos cascading down at one point or another, even the legends.  Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Paul O’Neil, Alex Rodríguez — and even Derek Jeter — were all booed during slumps.  But why not Teixeira?

Even as his average hovered in the low .200s, Tex could pop up with a runner on third, strike out with the bases loaded, or ground into a rally-killing double play, all with relative impunity, as evidenced by his jog back to the dugout beneath a cloud of indifferent silence.  Analysts would say it was because the true fans understood that he was still helping the team with his on base percentage and stellar defense, but that’s not it at all.  Mark Teixeira is vanilla.  He hits for a decent average, slugs thirty to forty homers a year, drives in a boatload of runs, plays Gold Glove defense, and helps the team win — but no one cares.  We have no expectations for him, so we can’t be disappointed when he fails, even when it’s happening for weeks and months at a time.

Alex Rodríguez, of course, is different.  His at bats stop conversations and delay trips to the concession stand because we expect greatness each time he steps to the plate.  He could be mired in a slump and facing, say, Roy Halladay, but we don’t wonder if he’ll succeed, we wonder how far the ball will go.  Sure, there are a lot of other variables here — the steroid issue, the enormous contract, the opting out of the enormous contract, the social awkwardness, the shadow of Jeter — but the main thing is the great expectations.

All of which brings us to Tuesday night’s game in Oakland.  The Yankees had just tied the score at one in the top of the third when Teixeira came to the plate with runners on first and third, and that’s when the idea of an A-Rod grand slam first popped into my head.  Three pitches later Teixeira was writhing in pain after being plunked in the back by an errant fastball from Trevor Cahill, and the bases were loaded for Mr. Rodríguez.

Any base hit would’ve been fine, but I expected more.  After getting the benefit of the doubt on a check swing call that pushed the count to 3-1 instead of 2-2, A-Rod jumped on a flat sinker and banged it off the bleachers in left center field, 423 feet away.  A-Rod’s response to these no-doubt home runs has always been interesting to me.  Reggie would pause for a second or two, and then take a few deliberate steps towards first before breaking into a Cadillac trot around the bases, all designed to give everyone — Reggie included — ample opportunity to admire what he had just done.  A-Rod instead bolts from the box and immediately turns his head towards his teammates, none of whom are looking at him.  They’re celebrating and following the flight of the ball, and when A-Rod looks into the dugout he seems to be channeling Sally Field: “You like me!  You really like me!” He needs their approval and can’t wait to get around the bases and into the dugout so he can accept their congratulations.  You could psychoanalyze this all you want — or maybe I just did — but all it really means is that he wants to be loved, and I love him for it.

A-Rod’s slam gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead, and that was more than enough for CC Sabathia, who has been pitching like CC Sabathia for the past six weeks.  Following his start in that disaster game in Cleveland on May 29, CC’s record stood at 4-3 with a 4.16 ERA.  Since then he’s rattled off seven straight wins and lowered his ERA with each outing, dropping it to where it now stands at 3.19.  He was dominant again on Tuesday night, striking out ten in seven and two-thirds innings and never really allowing the A’s a look at the game.  He gave up a couple of singles and a walk to the load the bases with two outs in the fifth, but recovered to strike out Daric Barton, who slammed his bat down in disgust at the call and was instantly tossed by home plate umpire Mike Winters.  (And is it just me, or are a lot of opposing hitters getting run lately?)

If all that wasn’t enough to crush the Athletics’ spirit, A-Rod added a second home run (and an second glance into the dugout) with the next half inning, and that was pretty much it.  Yankees 6, A’s 1.

[Photo courtesy of US Presswire.]

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1 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 7, 2010 9:29 am

Great call on the Sally Fields-A Rod thing. Classic. So true.

2 Diane Firstman   ~  Jul 7, 2010 9:55 am

Way too verbose a recap Hank. I mean, I want a short, concise, get-in, get-out, what happened when and why summary. I don't need all your amateur pop psychology mumbo-jumbo about that nimrod A-Rod and aw shucks Teix. Just give me the facts man, I'm a busy gal.

(sorry, I couldn't resist after the first response to yesterday's recap) :-)

3 Diane Firstman   ~  Jul 7, 2010 9:57 am

Was Watching with the headline of the morning

4 Dimelo   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:00 am

Or maybe A-Rod looks towards his teammates because he really loves the song, "this is why I'm hot". So after he hits the ball, he turns to his teammates and the song cues up in his head:
This is why I'm hot
This is why Uh
This is why I'm hot
This is why I'm hot Whoo
This is why
This is why I'm hot

I'm hot cause I'm fly
You ain't cause you're not
This is why
This is why I'm hot [2x]

5 Diane Firstman   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:03 am

I think A-Rod is the most successful *insecure* superstar athlete I've ever watched. I hesitate to think of how he'll react when his skills truly erode.

6 bp1   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:06 am

Reggie did not Cadillac around the bases. He would admire a home run in the batter's box of course (but no more than any other slugger), but he rounded the bases quickly once he got going.

He was more of a hot dog in the press than on the field.

7 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:08 am

So true, well done. I have a little sympathy for Arod, he obviously has issues, but a man with his skills and resources should be able to work it out. Someone on this Yankee team or management has had to mentor him to get started on the right track, and it seems to be working.

I for one wanted to bid him good riddance when he opted for release, and no team wanted to pay him. He was a despicable head case, who cared only about himself and could not carry the team when his skills were needed at the right time. It seemed that his hits and HRs only came at low reward moments. The money that would have been freed up could have rebuilt the team for 10 years of success. I also believed that even with his numbers, Arod was not driving fans to the game Tough man to root for...certainly not a fan favorite. And, do you see many Arod endorsements? The experts must believe that too.

But that being said, he has kept his mouth shut (mostly) lately, and had an all world performance in the post season last year. He is a driven competitor, who is focused, and wants to win. I guess we can love him, because he's OUR slightly damaged (both mentally and physically) warrior.

And with his sex-capades over the years...he might be the first 6-Tool Player!

8 The Mick536   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:08 am

Interesting topic. I liked The Mick's HR reaction. He seemed to hold his swing while he watched the ball. Then he ran regally.

As for A-Rod, I still think he has hip problems which make it difficult for him to go get the ones that do move out and down. He hit a mistake, yes, for the GS.

I missed one of his GS a few years ago. I went to a May game on a Saturday while my wife took her Alzheimer beset Mom for a manicure. I left in the 7th because it was too cold, a fact I discovered when I couldn't get my fly up after a trip to the bathroom. In the car on the Deegan, I heard the call on the radio. Felt a little cheated, but I did beat the rush.

9 Ben   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:12 am

I always figured Arod looked into the dugout becuase he'd called the shot. Maybe he calls it everytime up... who knows.

I like Arod. He's really grown on me.

Who says good baseball players need to be self-contained.

10 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:45 am

Funny, A Rod is insecure, but he doesn't lack confidence. Nobody who works as hard as he does and hits 600 homers lacks confidence. Also, I don't recall him looking into the dugout like he does until 2007.

11 Dimelo   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:52 am

[10] Big Al, I think insecurity can drive people to do great things too. You work harder than anyone else because you feel that your hard work will make you great. Insecurity isn't necessarily a bad thing, the little engine that could was insecure too.

Insecurity is only bad when you hide behind it; crawl into the fetal position.

12 rbj   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:55 am

[2] LOL.

Part of the thing with Teix is that he gets lost in the shuffle. You've got your Mo & Derek, Jorge and Andy and your A-Rod (biggest contract in sports history!!!!!!) and now CC and A.J., and Cano becoming a star and your Phil Hughes and The Joba Rules. Kind of hard to fit yet another guy into all that mix.

Oh, and New Stadium!

13 The Hawk   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:56 am

"A-Rod instead bolts from the box and immediately turns his head towards his teammates, none of whom are looking at him. They’re celebrating and following the flight of the ball, and when A-Rod looks into the dugout he seems to be channeling Sally Field: “You like me! You really like me!” He needs their approval and can’t wait to get around the bases and into the dugout so he can accept their congratulations."

It never occurred to me that they weren't looking at him, but I always found it a little sad how he looked over there anyway. Either way, great insight there.

Speaking of poor performance though - what about Granderson? It's embarrassing.

14 The Hawk   ~  Jul 7, 2010 10:58 am

[3] I find that Sabathia looks fatter or slimmer depending on how well he's pitching. Last night I was thinking he looked relatively trim, hahaha

15 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 7, 2010 11:11 am

Grandy has got to step it up in the second half and I think he will...

16 Yankee Mama   ~  Jul 7, 2010 11:42 am

[3] Sabathia is large, but Joba's weight bothers me more. He looks swollen and out of shape. I know pitchers don't have to run much, but I wonder if his excess weight is impeding his performance. Don't they have sports nutritionists in the clubhouse? They have everything else.

Grandy is frustrating these days. He looks so uncomfortable in the batter's box, as if he's new at this. His body language is so unsettled, and unsettling to watch.

As for A-Rod, after his post-season performances in 2009 led us to the World Series, I decided that in spite of the fact the he is imminently easy to psychologize (what a nut), he would have a fan in me. He's annoying but oh so talented. All is forgiven.

17 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 7, 2010 11:53 am

3) Yeah, that was an inflammatory headline by Steve. CC's weight doesn't bother me.

Joba is a tool. LOL

18 Larry Koestler   ~  Jul 7, 2010 1:15 pm

Great recap, Hank.

I've always been an unabashed A-Rod fan, and I for one LOVE A-Rod's glance into the dugout after a no-doubter.

Even if his teammates are in fact not looking back at him -- and truthfully, how will we ever now if this is the case? I can't recall the YES camera ever cutting to a reaction shot of the dugout after an A-Bomb -- there's something kind of understatedly cool about it, as if A-Rod's saying "That's what's up."

19 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Jul 7, 2010 1:29 pm

Maybe when Arod is looking at the dugout on his trot, he is asking for recognition from Kevin Long as to say, "I did what you said, look what happened". We'll never know what's in his head, but I suspect the truth is more embarrassing than cool.

20 Sliced Bread   ~  Jul 7, 2010 2:01 pm

gotta admit I'm a little hurt and confused about this "ARod looking toward the dugout thing." I always thought he was looking at me. Thought that was our thing. Whatever, I'll get over it. He's America's Boyfriend, not mine.

21 Chyll Will   ~  Jul 7, 2010 4:26 pm

[20] Gee Sliced, I guess there's only one thing left to say...

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