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Joe Meets the Head Case

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Over the years Torre has grown into a father figure not just for the team but also the city, sipping green tea and issuing warm but stern advice. At home, he’s become the man his own father never was. And now Torre is witnessing the slow fade of Steinbrenner, the man who in many ways has been father to the greatest success of his managerial life.

The core of Torre’s success hasn’t been in-game strategy but his genius at parenting his physically gifted, emotionally stunted children in pinstripes. Rodriguez hasn’t so much rejected Torre’s paternal touch as he’s been confused about how to accept it, especially while tiptoeing around Torre’s favorite surrogate son, Jeter. The dominant figure in A-Rod’s life and brain, ever since he was a prodigal 17-year-old No. 1 draft pick, has been Boras. It was Boras who promoted Rodriguez as this generation’s greatest player, even before A-Rod proved it on the field, and who sold Rodriguez on leaving a happy situation in Seattle for a whopping payday in Texas—and who crafted the contract’s out clause, effective at the end of this season, that could make A-Rod even richer.

The notion that he has one foot out the door fuels the feeling that Rodriguez isn’t fully committed to the greater Yankees cause, at least emotionally. Lately, though, Rodriguez’s searing play shows signs of a breakthrough, or maybe a surrender. Whatever is happening in his home life—or perhaps because of what’s happening in his home life—A-Rod looks blissfully unconflicted in the batter’s box. Tonight he hits another gargantuan homer. Later, on a mere double, Rodriguez smacks a ball even harder, into the left-center gap, as the red-hot Yankees demolish the Mets.

Last season, when his hitting touch disappeared and the fans booed, A-Rod went to pieces and became such a mental mess that his batting troubles infected his ability to field easy ground balls. What’s different now? Why, in the face of seemingly worse stress, has A-Rod shrugged it off and gone back to playing as if he’s a bargain at $252 million?

“Well, he’s lost ten or twelve pounds, which makes him quicker at third base,” Torre says after the game, attempting a rational analysis. “But how his mind is different from last year, why he hasn’t let it affect him…” Torre shrugs, his words drifting off. “I don’t know what you can say it is.

“I think we’re all human, and it comes to a point where you all of a sudden stop having to deal with all that stuff and just—you hide,” he continues. “You hide on the field. That’s something we’ve all done from time to time as players. Whether it’s what Alex was dealing with or something else, there’s always something that you have to try to block out so you can do your thing.”

A few steps away, in front of his locker, Rodriguez is lit by TV-camera strobes and surrounded by notebooks. “Nothing means anything until our next game,” he says.

He’s dressed in a tight-fitting T-shirt the color of Georgia clay. It’s flattering to his sculpted chest and biceps—except for the sequins on the left sleeve, an oddly fey touch. A-Rod’s collar is frayed. Not in a phony “distressed” designer way. It’s just worn, the kind of look you’d expect on a knockaround guy from Brooklyn, not a diva from Miami. Dr. Torre’s treatment is working. At least until the next crisis.


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