Let me begin by asking this question: is there any other player, on any other team, in any other sport, where so many times regular season wins, playoff wins, clutch moments have so routinely come down to a performance by one player than Alex Rodriguez? It seems like A-Rod comes up to bat for every single moment where the potential for the tying run exists, or the chance to save a game or series can occur. He’s like the anti-Derek Jeter; in the same way that Jeter is so “clutch,” Rodriguez has been labeled “un-clutch.” But is it really his fault? Does A-Rod “fail” a disproportionately high amount of times, or are we as fans being completely unreasonable to expect those game-changing moments every time he gets a chance?
Let’s start by establishing this one thing: we, as Yankees fans, are ridiculously spoiled when it comes to watching players perform in high-pressure, “clutch” situations. (PS, there is really no such thing as clutch.) How? We have been watching Derek Jeter do the impossible for the last 16 years — Mr. November, the dive into the third-base stands to make a catch against the Red Sox, the immortal “Flip Play” in the ALDS against the A’s, the home run on his 3,000th hit. Who else has one of those things happen to him, let alone all of those things? Answer: no one. Just to be clear, these things are awesome because they don’t happen, period. To anyone. The rarity is what makes them special. The fact that they keep happening to the same guy, combined with the aura of Jeter — The Captain, the reputation, the narrative, etc. is mind-boggling. It just happens that they continue to happen to Jeter, so it’s constantly in front of our eyes. We come to expect it from him. But to consistently expect such things from Jeter, even if we can set our watches by it, is somewhat unfair. To hold A-Rod to such an unrealistic standard for any ballplayer, let alone one who has dwelled in Jeter’s shadow since the day Aaron Boone torn his ACL playing basketball and the baseball die was cast, is incredibly unfair.
Objectively speaking, A-Rod has accomplished a tremendous amount in his career, even though it may be fair to put an asterisk near his numbers once he retires. Barring the unforeseeable, career-ending injury, A-Rod will also be a member of the 3,000 hit club. He is a 14-time All Star, 10-time Silver Slugger, 3-time AL MVP, 2-time Gold Glove winner and 5-time AL home run champion. Yes, I get that he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs — judging by the boos in every ballpark he visits, everyone else does as well. But since we cannot go back and un-write history, the fact is that A-Rod has quite a hefty resume. It’s not like he hasn’t done anything since he broke into the big leagues.
Rodriguez is a frustrating player to watch at this point in his career. There’s no defending the fact that he has struggled immensely this year, and he has quickly dissolved into a singles hitter, which is quite worrisome considering the Yankees have him signed for the next six years. The consternation is only heightened when fans remember A-Rod is being paid over $20 million dollars per season during that span for the way he performed 10 years ago. There is justification in being frustrated about the lack of production, or the very quick drop-off of A-Rod as a player, or his seemingly constant mid-season injuries. But there is no justifying the crazy, unrealistic expectations that we as Yankees fans have when it comes to him. No single person can carry a baseball team, no matter what he has done in the past, or what is paycheck looks like. Quite simply; it’s not his fault. A-Rod has some massive flaws in his game, of that there is no doubt, but every time something goes wrong for the Yankees, it’s horribly unfair to point the figure at Number 13.
Jeter has done incredible things in his career, things that we may never see again. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how he is going to eclipse his career-high number of hits in a season at 38-years old. But we have to understand that’s what makes Jeter so special, not just on the Yankees, but for baseball in general, is that these things simply do not happen. It often seems as though Jeter’s entire career is a Hollywood movie where absolutely everything goes right for the leading man, and that may very well be the case. However, that doesn’t mean it is normal. And it doesn’t mean that we should expect it from A-Rod, let alone Jeter. The fact of the matter is that the expectations on Rodriguez, with the constant odor of PEDs and the enormous contract, are insanely high, and unjustifiably so.
Alex Rodriguez is what he is: a 37-year old player whose best days are probably behind him. So the next time he, through some unkind force of fate, finds himself with the potential to win a game (I mean, really, if the Yankees require some sort of heroic effort in the next week, are we going to be shocked if the game comes down to an A-Rod at the plate?) remember to temper your expectations. A-Rod isn’t Jeter, and it’s unfair to expect that from him.