On the other hand, the Yankees are baseball’s lowest-scoring team this month, and maybe A-Rod can help.
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright apologized to his manager, Mike Matheny, for critical comments he made after being pulled from Sunday’s game. Afterward, both men emphasized the incident was behind them, and considering the enormous respect each man has for the other, there’s little doubt about that.
Was it a big deal? Absolutely not.
Did it bother Matheny? Of course.
Wainwright understands this. He’s supposed to be a role model for all those young Cardinals. To publicly second-guess the manager was a mistake, especially in St. Louis where the Cardinals adhere to doing things a certain way. That is, everything—and I mean everything—is about winning. No sideshows allowed.
Every manager in baseball would understand. They want their players thinking that team comes first, second and third. They want no distractions, whether those distractions be trade rumors, contractual issues or anything that takes the focus off that night’s game. Clubhouse environments can be fragile things, and those of us on the outside may never completely understand.
I know one manager who asked his general manager to stop visiting the clubhouse after games. He said that if the GM had anything to discuss they should do it by phone or in the early afternoon before players arrive.
“When the players see you, they think something’s up,” the manager told his boss. “It’s unsettling.”
In other words, a distraction.
Which brings us to Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees have done a terrific job convincing him to comment only on the business at hand. If he speaks of a teammate, it’s to praise him. If he’s asked about another team, he’s to praise them. If he’s asked about a controversial topic, he’s to keep his mouth closed.
I’m guessing the Yankees wanted to cry with a joy a year ago when A-Rod was asked about Ryan Braun and chose to answer thusly: “I’m going to try and stay within my circle of knowledge. And that’s a very small circle.”
That he would not address a controversial topic, that he would keep the conversation focused only on the Yankees was precisely what the club had tried to get him to do.
That kind of discipline is a particular challenge in New York, where there are dozens of reporters looking for stories. In years past, the atmosphere around the club has had a circus-like quality with this guy ripping that guy and that other guy responding and on and on.
Part of Joe Torre’s genius as a manager was that he managed to keep the noise out in the hallway. He took the bullets from ownership, he never let anyone see him sweat and the atmosphere around the Yankees felt pretty much like the atmosphere around any other club.
Joe Girardi has been brilliant at this, too. He answers negative questions with positive answers and positive questions with even more positive answers.
And look at the guys Brian Cashman went for this Spring Training: Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner.
What do they have in common? They’re all respected professionals, all players known for putting the team first. They’ve all been around long enough to understand that playing for the Yankees is a privilege. And they fit in nicely.
There was always going to be questions about how much productive baseball they had left in the tank, but there was no chance they were going to be a distraction or say or do anything that was about anything except winning.
This is the Yankee way. Some guys get it. Some guys don’t.
Roger Clemens got it. Maybe he saw himself as bigger than his previous franchises, but when he walked through the home clubhouse door at Yankee Stadium, he seemed transformed. He knew enough baseball history to know that the Yankees had won before he arrived and that they would win after he departed.
Here’s a guess that if you asked Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez and the others, they would say the Rocket was one of their favorite teammates. As for the Rocket, he absolutely loved being a Yankee.
For whatever reason, A-Rod has not been remade by the pinstripes. He seems to have to fight himself not to say things that call attention to himself. With this latest Tweet about being cleared to play in games, he violated clear and easily understandable protocol.
Everything about his recovery is supposed to go through the club and their doctors. Have you listened to Derek Jeter comment on his recovery? Don’t bother. There’s usually nothing more than, “I don’t know, fellas.”
For that matter, have you heard Jeter say one controversial word in his 18 years? Andy Pettitte? Mariano Rivera? These Yankees are about the Yankees.
Maybe A-Rod, as he said, really was so excited about clearing another hurdle that he couldn’t contain himself. Or maybe there was something else at play.
Maybe he thinks the Yankees are tired of him, of his injuries and controversies and decline in production. Maybe he senses the Bombers don’t want him back even though their offense could use some help. (They’ve scored the fewest runs in baseball this month.)
It’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out. Can A-Rod still be productive? Could he actually return and help the Yankees win? Can he still rescue his own reputation?