On the field, the major knock on Rodriguez has been that he didn’t “come through in the clutch.” Statistical analysts might debate whether such an animal as “clutch hitting” exists, but Yankees fans have no doubt. The notion that some players like Derek Jeter have a champion’s biochemistry is particularly strongly held in New York. Rodriguez was booed relentlessly last year for alleged clutch dysfunction. In last season’s four-game ALDS loss to the eventual American League champion Tigers, he went 1 for 14 with four strikeouts, prompting Torre to bat him eighth in the deciding fourth game. His most famous postseason moment, to date, is his illegal attempt to slap the ball out of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove in the 2004 ALCS. As every Yankees fan knows, the team has failed to win a World Series since acquiring Rodriguez. This year, though, he’s led the league in RBIs and hit several dramatic home runs late in games. He hasn’t been booed much lately.
He has not, however, gotten off the hook with the New York media. When Rodriguez and Boras sit down this off-season and make their pros-and-cons chart, you’d have to imagine “Chicago Tribune Won’t Run Photo of My Night Out With a Buxom Blonde and Write That I’m Into the ‘She-Male, Muscular Type’” would be rather high up the list. When A-Rod was in Seattle and Texas, this was something he never had to worry about; if he actually did cheat on his wife on the road, this would make him like nearly every other athlete in sports and would not be reported upon. He’s been stoic about it, but perhaps that just proves a point. He has a history of being sensitive when he’s felt unwanted—and he certainly hasn’t been hanging around NYU making conversation with undergraduates lately. In 2003, remember, he was willing to take a cut in his record-size contract to facilitate a trade to Boston. On a certain level, Rodriguez, no matter how high the money figures go, has to wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze in the Bronx.
If A-Rod plays well and the Yankees win the World Series, it’s a moot point. Everyone’s happy; management offers a massive contract—they’ve got enough money to outbid anyone, in the end—and he accepts. But what if he struggles and they lose? What if he struggles and they win? Maybe he’s earned enough goodwill this year that the tide has turned. But maybe the crowd will boo and the sports pages will vituperate. Even in that scenario, the Yankees will likely still bid as much as anyone else: Cashman knows that the team would never have even made the playoffs without him; Trost, unlike Steinbrenner, is a moneyman who will rely on Cashman rather than emotion; even Levine, Steinbrenner’s heir in unpredictability, is set on bringing A-Rod back. But if the fans don’t want him, A-Rod’s history indicates he won’t want to be here. Boras’s history indicates he can certainly find a satisfactorily gigantic pile of money elsewhere in America. And losing A-Rod—with the consequent near-guaranteed crumminess of next year’s team that entails—is the kind of catastrophe that could leave the tenuous Torre-Cashman-Trost-Levine management system in ruins, ending the Yankees as we’ve known them for the last twelve Octobers. In the end, the Zeitgeist may have the final say. So take heed, Yankees fan. The future is in your hands.