One of the things that still amazes me, after all the years he's been here, is how Alex Rodriguez always takes shrapnel even when it's not his fight.
I'm sure Torre didn't set out to put A-Rod in the middle of controversy about the slugger's maddening personality. According to the reprint quotes we've seen, it appears all Torre offers about A-Rod is some objective analysis of the same things about him that frustrate us all -- his obsession with appearance, his paralyzing need for acceptance and acclaim. Rodriguez has always been a mystery -- How can a guy who has so much going for him be so insecure? And it seems as if Torre is merely articulating his own efforts to solve it.
Are we really surprised to know that A-Rod wants to be Derek Jeter? As somebody who spent significant time in that clubhouse the past five years, I'm certainly not. A-Rod has, since becoming a Yankee, worked hard to be like Jeter in his dealings with the media -- closed-off, cliche-happy and boring. The difference is that Jeter does all of that naturally, while A-Rod has to work at it.
A-Rod is actually an interesting guy to talk to about baseball. He loves the game and works so hard at it that he has a great deal to offer in terms of analysis -- of his own game and other people's. I have had many one-on-one conversations with him about baseball, and they're almost always educational. We've discussed technical aspects of playing third base and of basestealing. We've talked about the perception of him as a poor "clutch" player, what he thinks of that and how he copes with it. When you ask him a good question about the game, he can help educate you about the game. The hardest part is finding him. Or getting him to take those stupid headphones off and talk to you.
Are we really surprised to hear, from Torre, that A-Rod "needs people to make a fuss over him?" This couldn't be more obvious to anybody who watches the guy. Every movement is measured, every ounce of attention absorbed. When all the Madonna stuff was going down last year in late June and early July, I talked to a person in the Yankees' clubhouse and asked how he was handling it. The answer: "Are you kidding? He loves this stuff. He loves being a big enough star to be on the cover of US Weekly. This isn't going to bother him one bit."
Did you ever see Alex slap his hands together, ala Paul O'Neill, after a big hit? Yeah, no coincidence. He copied that right from O'Neill, and here's why. Alex is fascinated, jealously so, of the late 1990s Yankee teams. He asked a teammate, during his first year in New York, why the fans love Scott Brosius so much. Brosius was a good player, but well short of Hall of Fame caliber, Rodriguez thought. So why all the adulation?
The answer is, of course, the thing that A-Rod doesn't get. Oh he gets the superficial part of it -- the fact that Brosius, O'Neill and Tino Martinez are so beloved in New York because they won championships. Rodriguez burns to win one, if for no other reason than to cut out the most glaring bad spot on his resume.
But there's a deeper reason Brosius and those guys attained an affection that Rodriguez can't. Brosius never carried himself the way A-Rod does -- as if he needed people to notice the things he was doing, as if he couldn't really be great unless somebody told him they knew he was great. Brosius carried himself like a guy who only cared about doing his little part to help the team win that day's game. He didn't fake it. He didn't spout cliches about it. He just did it, without pretense.
Think further back. Think about Don Mattingly. Unlike Brosius, Mattingly was a great player -- borderline Hall of Fame caliber. But he never appeared to need people to know how great he was. He was just great, on his own, and if you didn't think so it wasn't going to matter to him.
Why does A-Rod always take shrapnel, even when it's not his fight? Unfortunately, it's for a reason of his own making. He attracts attention because he so obviously needs it. And when you're as great and as public and as obviously emotionally needy as he is, you're going to attract all kinds of attention -- positive and negative -- whether you deserve it or not.