By the time you read this, Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez may have hit his 600th home run, becoming the seventh man in baseball history to do so. Now it’s true that home-run milestones aren’t what they used to be, but still: It is bizarre to see a man whose career has been marked by relentless fanfare and drama—both good and very, very bad—doing something this significant and having most fans consider it no big deal, if they consider it at all.
Part of this is because A-Rod would probably have to rob a bank to surpass last year’s Madonna–steroids–mysterious-cousin–Kate Hudson–October-heroics opera. But mostly, the relative silence on the A-Rod front isn’t the result of a change in his underlying nature—it’s the final triumph of the organization’s effort to instill each of its members with a sense of the obligation to be professionally boring.
George Steinbrenner’s death was sad from a personal standpoint, but his absence has been felt within the Yankees for a while. The Yankees are run by prudent, smart men who’ve learned to imitate Good George (making as much money in as many ways as possible, thinking ambitiously about acquiring talent) while leaving behind the habits of Bad George (using the media to fight with employees, making trades just because you’re in a bad mood). Bad George might have eviscerated A. J. Burnett for punching a door and hurting his hand, creating a lasting clubhouse problem; today, the story was just a blip.
It’s not hard to get clues about what kind of atmosphere the Yankees are trying to cultivate: They have their own TV network, yes, with which to present themselves, and to watch it is to see a drama-free infomercial continuously letting us know the team is winning and there is nothing to worry about. Where Bad George bad-mouthed and alienated Bomber legends Yogi Berra and Billy Martin, yes exists essentially to stroke the ego of anyone who has ever played, or even watched, Yankees baseball. The tranquillity of the network isn’t just a façade: Consider that Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, two of the greatest Yankees of all time, are both free agents after this season. Contract extensions can fray even the strongest player-team-fan bonds; David Ortiz is currently grumbling that Boston hasn’t yet guaranteed him a salary for 2012. But no one, even “sources close to the situation,” has heard a peep from Mo or Jeter, and fans aren’t even slightly concerned that they’ll leave. The Brian Cashmans and Hal Steinbrenners running the show simply say, “We don’t negotiate contracts during the season,” and everyone takes them at their word, a trust they’ve earned in their dealings with Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. Joe Torre did things the old Yankees way, taking some shots at the organization in a tell-all book, and is consequently on the outs with parts of the front office.
Which brings us back to A-Rod, who took a few hits in Torre’s book. One of the main reasons A-Rod hasn’t said anything stupid in a while is that he isn’t saying much at all these days. Under the tutelage of Yankees media-relations director Jason Zillo, who pulled A-Rod away from some of the more entertainment-oriented advisers in his life during the turmoil last year, A-Rod has retreated into the same shiny bubble of positivity and professionalism as the rest of the team. Considering he’s probably having his worst season since he was 22 years old, it’s a little surprising that Rodriguez, who is making $32 million this season, isn’t receiving more criticism. But the Yankees are organized to dilute such matters. Where Bad George would have been screaming about the overpaid third-baseman with the celebrity girlfriends—one actually shudders to think what he would have done to A-Rod had he been healthy and in full bluster in 2009—now the Yankees would rather you not even think about salaries, or personalities, or anything, really, other than the relentless scroll of victories. This is the way the Yankees do business now, and business, it is a-boomin’. As long as they win the World Series again this year, anyway.
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