Kobe Bryant spoke with Alex Rodriguez the other day. According to Ramona Shelburne at ESPN:
“I just say to him, ‘You’re Alex Rodriguez. You’re A-Rod. You’re one of the best to ever do it,’” Bryant said. “I think sometimes he kind of forgets that and wants to try to do the right thing all the time. Which is the right team attitude to have. But other times you really have to put your head down and say, ‘Hell with it’ and just do your thing.
“Hopefully the next game they’ll kind of give him a chance, maybe put him back at third and let him respond to the pressure, which I think he’ll do.”
Although both are among the best to ever play their respective sports, Bryant and Rodriguez would seem to be very dissimilar.
“We’re different,” Bryant said. “But you’re talking about, ‘He’s one of the best to ever play.’ I think really the difference is, sometimes he forgets he’s the best….Where, I don’t.”
And here’s Doug Glanville in an insightful piece, also at ESPN:
In spring training of 2003, Alex’s locker was next to mine. We talked every day and I appreciated that he took the time to do that. I saw a super hard-working, talented player at that time. He was in the cage hitting curveballs, and he was one of the best shortstops to go with his amazing offensive capability. I also saw someone who tried hard to fit somewhere, to fit in, which for most mega-stars is unusual. They usually expect everyone to bend around them. He sought the statesman status of a Cal Ripken Jr. He worked to command an aura of baseball to emulate the most respected in the game but, probably frustratingly, he mostly found people unmoved.
It was hard to imagine someone so good being so worried at the same time, but I came to understand that he was a star with the same insecurities of a player fighting for that 25th roster spot. Knowing that in the end we were all renting time in the game, taking out a lease from the great history and future of the game.
Just as success leads to more success, lack of confidence in your performance breeds more lack of confidence, and if you do not find a way to turn it around quickly and regain the decision-maker’s faith in you, you could find yourself in a new role permanently. Or on a new team.
Keep in mind Alex Rodriguez is learning these lessons at the tail end of his career, in front of the world. Lessons that were usually reserved for the typical player, who would have long since learned them along the way. So many players break in this way, starting out as the pinch hitter, the emergency outfielder. Then without the coverage of a long-term deal, your struggles are rewarded with learning all the non-starting ways to be a team player — the fourth outfielder, the double-switch guy, the utility infielder — and without the contract coverage or the cheapness of being a young player, there is less incentive for a team to let you work out your kinks.
[Photograph by Hengki Koentjoro]