Sunday, October 08, 2006

Dear Alex

Alex Rodriguez
c/o New York Yankees
Yankee Stadium
161st St. and River Ave.
Bronx, NY 10451

Dear Alex,

I wanted to write and offer my congratulations on a good season. I know most people wouldn't call it a good season, least of all the New York press. But I wanted to take the opportunity to write and tell you that I feel otherwise. I don't normally write to baseball players, and some might consider me a bit old to be writing a fan letter. But you're never too old to address an injustice, and the way you're being treated is an injustice.
I know it's difficult to play baseball in New York. It's also tough to play ball in Boston, Philadelphia, and other places as well. But that doesn't give anyone a license to make someone's life a living hell. Baseball players make a lot of money; so do CEOs. But no one flashes Bill Gates' stats on the front pages, nor do they call him a "choker" for losing out to the government. There's a lot more important things going on in the world than baseball, and there's about a billion different things that should be on the front pages other than Alex Rodriguez's fielding percentage.
You're a great ballplayer, and it's a crime that everyone is making a whole lot out of nothing. Even outside of New York, other newspapers and TV shows feel like they have to talk about you just to satisfy the "demand" for A-Rod coverage. This, of course, only increases the exposure. If you're waiting for a ballplayer to make a mistake, you won't be waiting long; every ballplayer makes them. If that's what you're looking for, then you'll find it; but you'll miss the big picture.
What's the big picture? The big picture is a .290 batting average, 35 home runs, 121 RBIs, 15 steals, a .392 OBP and an all-around superb offensive game. This despite hitting in a tough ballpark for right-handed hitters and, of course, being under constant media scrutiny and having to suffer through your teammates and manager openly questioning you in Sports Illustrated.
Have you had defensive troubles this year? Well, yes, there's no denying that. But that's far outweighed by your offense. I guess you could call me a stat-head, and as such I know that offense is much more important than defense. Even with the errors, you were the best all-around third baseman in the AL this year.
But the criticism always revolves around "clutch." They say that A-Rod can't produce in the clutch. As a "stat-head," I think that's bunk. If you look at any measure of "clutch," it's never consistent from year to year. Even David Ortiz's "clutch" scores aren't that consistent.
Let's disprove the myth that you aren't clutch: you knocked in 16.1% of the runners on base when you hit. David Ortiz only knocked in 17%, and Derek Jeter just knocked in 18%,not a big improvement at all, only about 3 or 4 runs difference -- neither Jeter nor Ortiz are the "huge" clutch difference-makers that everyone thinks they are. Also, Bill James' "clutch" rating lists you at 3.2 runs above average this year -- above average! David Ortiz? He was 6.2 runs below average. So much for "clutch."
But there are still two other reasons that seem to turn people against you: one, you're the highest-paid player in baseball, and two, you're allegedly too self-obsessed.
As for the first one, that's just silly. Baseball fans will always find a reason to get mad at players, but getting mad at someone for making a lot of money is silly. Enron executives got paid a lot more than you, and their colossal failure affected the lives of thousands. No one was there booing them. I defy anyone who mocks your $26 million to say that they would turn down that kind of salary. Major league baseball players are about the top 1% (or even less) of all baseball players in the country. And you are in the top 1% of that. If you take other professions -- banking, law, real estate -- I'm sure you'd find the elite performers in those industries taking in much more than $25 million. And yet no one will listen; people don't want to listen to reason, they just want to be grumpy and blame someone else. And for grumpy, pig-headed fans, only Philadelphia rivals New York.
As to the fact that you're too self-obsessed, well I can't say. I've never met you. Maybe you are self-obsessed; maybe you're not. I don't know, and neither do 99% of the people who say that you are. But let's suppose you are as self-obsessed as everyone claims: so the hell what? Was there ever a more self-obsessed diva than Babe Ruth? What kind of a "team player" was old Ty Cobb? And did anyone ever have an ego the size of Reggie Jackson? And yet these men were all universally acknowledged as great ballplayers. Being self-obsessed is basically irrelevant to baseball; everyone wants to think that being a nice guy, saying please and thank you, and calling your manager "Mr. Torre" puts extra runs on the board. But as Sandy Koufax said, "Nice guys without talent finish last."
Having said all this, let me point out that I've never been a strong fan of yours one way or the other. I'm also not a Yankee fan; in fact, I hate the Yankees. I'm a Braves fan who had to suffer through 1996 and 1999. But much as I may want to, I don't hate the Yankee players . . . all right, I do hate Jim Leyritz, but I never hated Bernie Williams or David Cone. This isn't a letter coming from a Yankee fan; this is a letter coming from a baseball fan.
Like I said before, I've never met you. Maybe you're the jerk everyone says you are. Maybe you're completely misunderstood. My point is that it doesn't matter one bit; you're one of the best baseball players of my generation. As a baseball fan, I'm outraged that the biggest story of a very exciting postseason has also been the most irrelevant. There are so many great things going on in baseball today that should be talked about; there are also serious problems that should be talked about. But your personality and alleged "failure in the clutch" are not among them.
I wrote this letter to express this dissatisfaction, but also to say that my heart goes out to you. No one deserves to get treated like this -- not Derek Jeter, not Barry Bonds, not Ty Cobb -- most certainly not you. And for every Yankee fan that thinks you should be traded, tell them there are millions of fans in other cities who would love to have you (I'm sure we could get Chipper to move to left field for you. I don't know who really runs the Braves anymore, but maybe I should write them a letter, too). Things are bound to get better; so much of "clutch" is luck that it's bound to swing back sometime or other. I just hope people haven't already made up their minds by then.
Best of luck, A-Rod. Saint or sinner, you're one of the best things about the game today, and here's one fan hoping that things get better for you.


Aaron Whitehead

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