Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A-Rod Agonistes

This appears in the Tuesday, August 15, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

A-Rod Agonistes
by rick olivares

Saturday Night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx brought plenty of cheer. First, there was the 20th Anniversary celebration of the New York Yankees’ 1996 World Series championship team that began a 1990s dynasty that saw them win four titles in five seasons. And second, the call-ups from the minors, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, hit back-to-back home runs to help NY to a 8-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and improve to a 60-56 record and move within five games of Americal League East leader, Baltimore.

It could be something, it could be nothing. However, in the first game after Alex Rodriguez “retired” or was forcibly pushed out, the Yankees brought back old glory and teased with the new.

I can’t help but notice the apropos moment even during Rodriguez’ retirement ceremony where rain and thunder interrupted the proceedings. Yes, the native New Yorker had a story relationship with his team for the better part of his 13 years with them (and coincidentally the number on his pinstriped jersey). In the last two seasons — following his one-year suspension for performance enhancing drugs use -- including this abbreviated one, Rodriguez has been a model citizen. He produced great numbers last year yet struggled this season.

When New York’s front office traded away many of the team’s stars before the end of the trading deadline this month, I was shocked that they finally went for youth rather than the big names they are wont to covet since the late George Steinbrenner took over in the 1970s. While I understand and appreciate it, and even welcome it, what was more shocking was the way they pushed Rodriguez out the door. 

In the press conference where the Yankees’ star announced his retirement, he was sad, obviously unhappy with the turn of events. To me, he wanted to at least finish this season that has under 50 games to play. I thought wasted season or not, the Yankees would have wanted Rodriguez to hit four more home runs to reach 700. "No athlete ends his career they want to,” said Rodriguez clearly fighting off his emotions. “We all want to keep playing forever. But it doesn’t work that way. Except to end gracefully as part of being a pro athlete. Saying goodbye may be the hardest part of the job. That is what I am doing today.”

There could be others but the only other Yankee to retire in the middle of the season who I know of is the late Lou Gehrig who left because he was battling a disease that would kill him and later bear his name. 

Did something happen in between that forced them to do this? Rodriguez was mostly sitting and maybe the relationship between New York manager Joe Girardi and him reached a breaking point where it threatened to undermine what ever was left of the season. The Yankees do not owe Rodriguez anything. Most especially after his battles with the organization and his trying to sue baseball. 

Whatever, I thought that for Girardi to say that he would play Rodriguez in his last few games then not do so in the first couple of them was in poor taste. Even when he said he was “trying to win games” and that giving a “farewell tour” wasn’t in his job description, it was shocking and even disappointing. For one, playing Aaron Hicks who has been hitting .197 and even others is not trying to win games. Veterans Chase Headley and Mark Teixeira have struggled as well and them playing long minutes is not trying to win games. Trading away key players and getting younger ones is not trying to win games now but later. So it reeks of something more.

While it is possible that Rodriguez’ transgressions through the years caught up with him, I thought that the year-long suspension was enough. When he came back last season and played great while being a more joyous and upstanding citizen (while engaging in speaking engagements on the ills of steroids), I thought that he was playing ball the right way. 

While I have always said that Paul O’Neill and then Derek Jeter are my favorite Yankees of all time, Rodriguez is somewhere in my Top 10, transgressions and all. I can’t explain why. I didn’t like everything he did. Maybe that’s because I haven’t been blind in my idolatry, preferring to strictly keep it to the game and not anything personal about them. So if they prove to be not the most likeable of players, I couldn’t give a hoot. I rooted for them for what they could do with a bat and a glove not because there were Mahatma Ghandi. If they were both then it’s even better.

Having said that, I can’t help but notice how the retirement in succession of former stars and teammates in Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter went — cheered, gifted, and loved. Rodriguez, may have done this to himself eventually with his transgressions and attitude even if statistically, he was better than Posada and Jeter. The aforementioned three though won multiple championships while Rodriguez was a part of one, in 2009, the last with the Core Four that include pitcher Andy Pettitte. 

Rodriguez’ last game on Friday where his RBI and double helped New York to a win and the adulation of the crowd was a nice way to go out. It could have been better though.

And with this, I am lastly reminded of how the sainted Yankees player Babe Ruth went out as well, with a lot of ruffled feathers, being pushed out and unwanted after he could no longer hit a ball. Ruth made a name for himself with the arch-rival Boston Red Sox before moving to New York where he made an even bigger name for himself. The same can be said for Rodriguez who was a star with the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers before signing with New York. Rodriguez has put up great numbers that will place him in the Top 20 Major League Baseball players of all time. Time has been kind to Ruth. I wonder will it be the same for Rodriguez? 

If he works with the Yankees after this as that instructor for the young, if he stays out of trouble and doesn’t antagonize anyone, he will come out ahead. And maybe, he’ll find himself not only in Cooperstown but also Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. And I think he deserves to be there.

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