When Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees in 2004, Doug Mientkiewicz, a high-school teammate of Rodriguez’s in Miami, said he’d be able to handle the pressure. After all, he’d been “under the microscope since he was 15 years old.” A-Rod was only 17 when a scout told Sports Illustrated “he’s the best (amateur prospect) I’ve ever seen.”
As we watch A-Rod’s tabloid excoriation across our tabloid media this week—He’s having an affair with Madonna! No, it’s only spiritual! He dates strippers and bodybuilders! He’s a bad dad!—it’s worth considering that the breakup that has landed A-Rod in his predicament isn’t necessarily the one with his wife, Cynthia; it’s the one he had with Scott Boras last October.
Over the past sixteen years, Boras was the one constant in A-Rod’s life. A-Rod’s job was simple: Hit baseballs a very long way. Boras, his agent, managed his money, public image, contract negotiations, you name it. Then, when negotiations with the Yankees went haywire, he dumped Boras, and Madonna’s longtime manager, Guy Oseary, was hired to remake A-Rod’s image. Which has happened now, spectacularly.
It’s perhaps instructive to think of A-Rod as the Princess Diana of baseball. (Bear with me.) Both were taken aside at a very young age and told to focus on one specific thing to the exclusion of all else. Both focused so much on this one thing that they lost the ability to understand anything outside their immediate frame of reference, finding themselves adrift in a world that assigned them roles they were never prepared for, roles they probably never quite understood. A-Rod the player is a superstar; the human being is a blank slate. Is A-Rod having an affair with Madonna? It doesn’t really matter.
Watching him on the field the last couple of weeks, it’s difficult not to wonder what’s going through his head. But he’s not Reggie Jackson, who treated Yankee Stadium as a stage for his emotional life. A-Rod plays like your 12-year-old son, bouncing around, energized, demonstratively “competitive,” and, at last, focused. It’s notable that the few times he’s struggled as a player since joining the Yankees have been a result of pressures involving baseball, not tabloids. During the Post ambush involving the “she-male muscular type” in Toronto last year, A-Rod continued to hit. But come October, when the pressures are only baseball-related, the dread enters. The one blemish on his résumé is his lack of a championship, and his body language shows it. It’s about the only time he’s ever one of us, through failure. And everyone hates him for it.
A-Rod told the Post in spring training, “The only goal that I have every year is that I want to play in every game.” The diamond is the one place he is safe, the one place he matters, the one place he understands. What happens elsewhere is the business of others—big business, actually. He’s necessary for a guy like Oseary to work his special brand of mojo, making everyone pretend that the ripening Madonna is still lusted after by professional athletes, and in turn promoting Madge’s upcoming tour. While A-Rod remains isolated, probably wondering what all the fuss is about, the Post is digging up stories of him “going into a trance” when Madonna shows up on his television. The poor guy just wants to hit 700 homers and get rich. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it?