DIBIASE: Rodriguez “A-Rod” of lightning for Bronx Bombers

Justin Dibiase

Oh, how things can change in a year. It has been only one year since the first World Baseball Classic; the death of Kirby Puckett; the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy; and the 2006 World Cup in Germany. What is even harder to believe is that Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees multi-millionaire third baseman, was being booed relentlessly in the Bronx only one year ago. The slugger hit a measly .290 with 35 home runs and 121 RBIs last season. After belting 12 home runs in the Yankees’ first 16 games, he is projected to hit 122 home runs and drive in 314 runs. Now that’s more like it.

A year after fans scoffed at A-Rod, he sits atop the baseball world. In only one month of baseball, he has regained his title as one of the best players in baseball history. Fresh faces like Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Ryan Howard seemed to surpass Rodriguez last season, but this April shower of power has put A-Rod back into a league of his own. While he sits atop the league leaders in home runs with 12, Pujols, Howard and Berkman have only six home runs between them. Rodriguez is earning every cent of his 2007 $27,708,525 salary. His torrid start, however, has been tempered by the Yankees’ poor pitching effort by the depleted starting rotation and bullpen. The Yankees have crept out of the gate and are wavering around the .500 mark.

Much was made of Rodriguez’s comments in the media this offseason. In an issue of Sports Illustrated, A-Rod suggested that many people criticize him because he looks good, has biracial heritage, makes the most money and plays on the most popular team. Statements like these inadvertently increased the amount of criticism that he received, but it is safe to say that he has silenced many of those critics during the early stages of this season.

Unfortunately, all who follow baseball know that Rodriguez’s Yankee legacy will be defined by a championship or lack thereof. His poor 1-for-14 hitting performance last postseason has left a sour taste in the mouths of the Bronx Bombers. A-Rod is well on his way to the 800 career home run milestone, but he may never get a World Series trophy. This brings about a controversial subject among many professional athletes. Can one deem a professional athlete one of the best in his or her sport if he or she has never won a championship? Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino was arguably the best of all time, but critics cannot analyze his hall-of-fame career without mentioning his lack of a Lombardi Trophy. A-Rod is nowhere near the end of his career, but he is not the young stallion hitting in front of Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle anymore, either. The 31-year-old New York native will hear more and more about his empty championship shelf as the years pass. It seems unfair to place that kind of blemish on an athlete’s record for never winning a championship, but that is the measuring stick of a great career.

So how long will this love for A-Rod continue? After committing a few crucial errors at Yankee Stadium in a few weeks, we will see if this truly is a new era of attitude toward A-Rod. Rodriguez may hit 80 home runs this season, however unlikely. If he does accomplish 80 homers but also struggles in another first-round playoff exit, will George Steinbrenner want to bring him back for another season? Or will A-Rod test the market once again and sign with a team like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? All of these questions will be answered by Rodriguez’s play through the remainder of the 2007 season and the playoffs.

With A-Rod’s recent success, the Yankees have found new goats to fill the shoes of A-Rod’s previous underachievements. The usually sure-handed Derek Jeter has committed six errors in the 16 regular-season games. Jeter is also hitting a team low .214 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees should be in no way concerned about Jeter; rather, they should be excited for the day when both Jeter and A-Rod hit their stride together.


Justin DiBiase is a sophomore civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]