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Joe Meets the Head Case

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The Sharpie-waving horde misses a woman stepping out of a black Escalade halfway down the block. Cynthia Rodriguez wears dark sunglasses, and her curly-haired 2-year-old daughter, who is sleeping, is slung over Mom’s shoulder. Mrs. A-Rod is flanked by two security guards as she ducks into a side entrance to the hotel.

It is six days since her husband appeared on the front page of the Post with the Other Woman. The next day, Cynthia Rodriguez flew to Boston, where the Yankees were playing the Red Sox, and went strolling through the streets with her husband, smiling as if nothing were wrong. In Chicago, A-Rod and his wife parade down Michigan Avenue, the city’s glossiest shopping strip, pushing their daughter in a stroller and eating lunch at an outdoor café, trailed by paparazzi. It all seems transparently staged for public consumption, but A-Rod ends the excursion by cursing at the photographers, “You had enough? I’m out with my family. Now get the fuck out of my way.” (Torre makes the same stroll unnoticed, even when he buys a suit in the Zegna boutique.)

Everyone wants A-Rod. Another afternoon in Chicago, the day of baseball’s amateur draft, Rodriguez is reminiscing about his entry into pro ball. Major League Baseball’s arcane eligibility rules at the time put an amateur player off-limits as soon as he attended a college class. Months of negotiations with the Seattle Mariners had stalled and he was carrying an armful of books across campus toward his first class at the University of Miami. Then, a Mariners executive who had literally been hiding in the bushes intercepted A-Rod with a sweetened offer.

Unimaginable riches weren’t far behind. The Texas Rangers lured A-Rod with a ten-year, $252 million contract, but it soon became an albatross and led to his 2004 trade to the Yankees, one of the few teams that could easily swallow such an expense. Rodriguez, though, has had a turbulent time in New York. During his first season with the Yankees, after a jittery Rodriguez rushed a throw from third base, Torre intercepted him in the dugout. “We start today,” the manager told A-Rod calmly—the beginning of a long seminar in ignoring impossible expectations and setting aside any failures to concentrate on the moment.

“He tried to take on too much responsibility himself—that’s the only thing I’ve brought up,” says Torre of A-Rod. “We don’t need one guy to carry the whole thing.”

Rodriguez’s father left the family when Alex was 9 years old. As much pain as that split inflicted on him, the young Rodriguez was at least equally wounded by a seemingly positive force—excessive praise. He was stroked and coddled from the moment his baseball gifts first emerged, and his early years as a pro reinforced the worship. His agent, Scott Boras, is a master at buffing his clients’ egos. So A-Rod’s entry into New York, that cauldron of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, was extremely jarring. “The problems he had at first were more or less trying to get used to the limelight in New York when statistics are one thing, but the ability to do something every single day is more necessary than it is with a club that is not going to contend,” Torre says. “He tried to take on too much responsibility himself. That’s the only thing I’ve brought up to him, that there’s enough to go around here, we’ve got enough players who have that leadership ability. We don’t need one guy to carry the whole thing.”

Last fall, when the playoffs began, Rodriguez slumped. Torre shifted him lower in the batting order, trying to reduce the pressure—but only increased it. The manager has been continually surprised at his superstar’s thin skin and insecurity. “Roger [Clemens] got toughened up basically because he’s been booed a lot of places,” Torre says. “Alex hadn’t gone through that. And he’s always been the spokesperson for the team, wherever he played. All of a sudden, he comes to the Yankees and he looks around and everybody is eye level with him, where he’s always had people that weren’t up to his level. It took some adjusting.” It isn’t done yet. For his monster individual statistics and polished persona, A-Rod was rewarded with a record-breaking contract by the lowly Rangers. But those aren’t the qualities that New York values, and it has left Rodriguez confused. He’s nowhere near as good as Torre at cultivating the press, so it’s probably too late for him to win over the city’s heart. But he may finally be earning its respect.

It is Father’s Day, and the patriarchal psychodrama at Yankee Stadium is so tangled that Venn diagrams should be issued with tonight’s programs. To promote early detection of prostate cancer, Major League Baseball asks everyone to stand for a sixth-inning stretch (one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer—get it?). Beside the Yankees dugout stands Rudy Giuliani, prostate-cancer survivor and presidential candidate; beside him is his third wife, Judi Nathan. Rudy’s son, Andrew, is in the ballpark, but the seat beside Judi stays empty all night. Giuliani, who had some father issues himself, wears a pale-blue golf shirt that matches the pale-blue prostate-cancer-awareness wristbands worn by Torre and the players; the wristbands have DAD printed on them in large navy letters. Rodriguez, who wears nothing out of place or by accident, has a dark sweatband covering all but a pale-blue sliver of the DAD band.


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