And mostly, we had the steroids, which hurt A-Rod not so much in that he took them—after all, no one seems angry at Andy Pettitte and his HGH anymore— but more because it conﬁrmed A-Rod as a soulless phony. A-Rod and the Yankees dominated nearly every tabloid cover for more than a month, and not even Rodriguez’s discovery of a torn labrum in his hip and retreat to Colorado for treatment bought him much peace. Last week, the Daily News reported that he dated Kristin Davis, madam of the same prostitution agency that serviced our former governor.
A-Rod’s injury rehab has gone better than expected, and, if everything falls perfectly, he could be back with the team by May 1. (Which is nice, considering the Yankees are paying him $32 million this year.) But A-Rod’s preseason surgery was a bit of a split-the-baby procedure—he’ll need to have another surgery once the season ends—and there’s little precedent; no one knows how much he’ll resemble the slugging A-Rod of old. (You know, the slugger everyone hated.) His temporary replacement, Cody Ransom, is unlikely to Lou Gehrig him. Ransom has seven lifetime home runs in six scattered seasons and might be the only Yankee less comfortable around the media than Rodriguez. (When asked what he’d like New Yorkers to know about him, Ransom said, “I love my family.” Anything else? “I love baseball.” Got it.) But Rodriguez will be 34 in July and, as convincingly argued by Über–stat genius Nate Silver in Baseball Prospectus, is clearly on the downward slope of his career. (Silver projects that A-Rod will hit a pitiful four home runs in 2017, a season in which the Yankees will pay him $20 million—a calculation he made before A-Rod’s injury.) Fans aren’t the only ones whispering that, perhaps, the Yankees should have dropped Rodriguez when they had the chance two years ago, when Boras overestimated the market and left the Yankees as the lone bidder for A-Rod. Now they’re stuck with him for a long, long time. As are the rest of us.
What’s funny is that, for all the talk about how much Rodriguez and Derek Jeter supposedly don’t get along, A-Rod has done nothing but make Jeter’s life easier since he arrived here. Everything that A-Rod can’t do, Jeter excels at, whether it’s being smooth with the media, having the look of a Wheaties-box champion, avoiding awful public-relations decisions like the Details photos, keeping his name out of the gossip pages, and, mostly, playing the part of Real Yankee—steroid-free, all-American, the “face of baseball.” Derek Jeter’s popularity couldn’t possibly be higher than it is right now, and much of that is owed to A-Rod.
That works out great for Jeter because—and I’m sorry to sound sacrilegious here—Jeter is just barely an average baseball player anymore. He’s hitting for less power, he’s stealing fewer bases, and his on-base percentage is plummeting; niggling injuries are starting to catch up with him at the plate. And that’s not even getting into his defense, which has been dramatically overrated for years—even Torre, in his book, admitted that his beloved Jeter lacks range at shortstop—and is becoming borderline embarrassing as he hits his mid-thirties. (He’ll be 35 in June.) No matter how many times we watch replays of Jeter’s patented jump throw from the hole at short, every ﬁelding metric available reveals that he has little to no range and a rapidly weakening arm. These are facts that have been obvious to everyone but Yankees fans (and, if you watched Jeter play ahead of Jimmy Rollins at short in the World Baseball Classic, USA manager Davey Johnson) for years now, but we’ve all been distracted by his heroic glow. This season, even the most ardent Jeter booster won’t start to see him as a liability in the ﬁeld.
What happens then? Jeter’s under contract for this season and next—which should put him just short of 3,000 hits—and it’s difﬁcult to imagine him as the Yankees shortstop beyond that; even Cal Ripken Jr. and Robin Yount ultimately switched positions. Are we ready to look for a Jeter replacement? What will be left of the Yankees Dynasty then? And it’s not just him: Mariano Rivera will be 40 in November, and Jorge Posada 38 in August. Both seem to have recovered from lingering injuries—Mariano has looked particularly overwhelming—but age is age. You better learn to love the new guys. Because the old guys are running out of time.
f the thousands of George Steinbrenner stories, my favorite is still the one about the 1981 World Series, when he called reporters to his hotel room, claiming that he’d broken his hand in a ﬁght with Dodgers fans in an elevator. The story was almost certainly false—no one could ﬁnd anyone who could corroborate it—and seemed based in George’s deluded notion that his team would play harder against the Dodgers out of a sense of personal injustice done to their leader. (They lost anyway.) Whatever your personal views of Steinbrenner, you have to admit the Yankees are less interesting without him. And since he ceded control of the team to his sons, it has been difﬁcult to ﬁgure out exactly who’s steering this ship.