If we’re being honest, the best part of the 2014 Major League Baseball season was the ubiquitous Twitter hashtag, RE2PECT, celebrating the final season of New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter’s storied career. Another storied Yankees career is coming to an end this week, but there will be no hashtag. Alex Rodriguez will go out exactly like the Yankees wished he would have before the 2015 season, moping off into the shadows, never to play again.
Alex Rodriguez simply can’t get no respect as comedian Rodney Dangerfield would complain.
It’s been an ugly week for A-Rod and the Yankees. After the three-time MVP announced on Sunday that the Yankees were graciously giving him $27 million to go out to pasture and leave them alone, most assumed he would get some sort of respectful farewell. Not so much. That’s because it’s all about winning for tone-deaf manager Joe Girardi.
Here’s what Ol’ Joe had to say earlier in the week when pressed about whether or not Rodriguez would get more than one token start on his final day with the Yankees on Friday.
“My job description does not entail a farewell tour. My job description is to try to win every game and to put everyone in the best possible position to do that.”
Girardi, is of course, overlooking several key facts. The big elephant in the room is Jeter, who was allowed to bat second in 141 of his 145 games in 2014. En route to an OPS+ of 76, Jeets was the epitome of an athlete who had stayed one season too long. In all reality, Jeter should have bowed out in 2013, but injuries limited him to 17 games that year, and no one wants to go out that way. Girardi defended Jeter’s presence in the top of the order by stating that his team had no better options. That’s probably true, especially considering the Yankees gave over 850 plate appearances to Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, Yangervis Solarte, and a sack of potatoes that bore an uncanny resemblance to former 40-40 player Alfonso Soriano.
The Jeter-Rodriguez comparison is not entirely fair, but Girardi’s comments are still out of left field. These Yankees just completed a massive sell-off that gutted their bullpen. Aaron Hicks is getting starts with a .191 batting average. Chase Headley is slugging below .400 at third base. Mark Teixeira is also batting below the Mendoza Line, but will keep getting turns at bat in his final season. Girardi won’t secure his future with the Yankees through their rebuild by going 83-79 this season instead of 79-83. There are plenty of Yankee backers who would prefer to see a different manager take the reins when the next generation of the “Core Four” arrives from the minor leagues. If it’s really about finding ways for the kids to get MLB experience, Rob Refsnyder would be playing every day at first base, and Luis Severino would get more than one start to figure things out before being shuttled back to Triple-A.
This is just about taking one final swipe at Rodriguez; how could it not be.
A-Rod has been a huge inconvenience for the Yankees the past four years. It was ugly when he impeded the investigation into his Biogenesis case. There was a big effort to void his contract entirely after his 162-game suspension. His pursuit of 660 home runs and 3,000 hits were mostly ignored by the team’s PR department. Then, a funny thing happened, Rodriguez emerged as perhaps the best offensive weapon on last year’s playoff team. While he ran out of gas down the stretch, the 2015 Yankees do not win the Wild Card without Alex Rodriguez’s 33 home runs and .842 OPS. Even as he exits, Rodriguez is helping the Yankees out, agreeing to their plan to fill in the 25th spot on their roster with God knows what.
So, as Alex Rodriguez limps to the finish, getting trolled by Red Sox fans, a little respect from his manager and organization are due. He doesn’t need any RE2PECT. Jeter was a special player, a historic figure in a way that Rodriguez always wanted to be. If anyone was deserving of a year-long victory accompanied by a corresponding hashtag, it was Jeter. That could have been in the cards for Rodriguez, but he just couldn’t get out of his own way. That does not mean he should be cast aside by the Yankees like a used napkin. Without Rodriguez, the Yankees likely do not win the 2009 World Series. The rest of us would only have 26 rings to kiss, and Girardi may not have a job to protect.
You don’t have to love Alex Rodriguez to think he deserves a better final week of baseball than this. His steroid slip-ups were some of the worst in the history of the game, but he is far from the only player to use them. I must have slept through the faux outrage over the retirement of admitted PED user Andy Pettitte’s number-46 jersey last summer. There are certain transgressions that can be overlooked when operating with a grandiose sense of self as the Yankees are wont to do.
The Yankees are not in a pennant race. A few days without at-bats is not going to stunt the logn-term development of Gary Sanchez (who was the DH in last night’s game in order to allow the stud Austin Romine start behind the dish). The Yankees, and Girardi specifically, not A-Rod, are the ones coming off as bitter and vindictive as the Rodriguez train limps slowly into the station. For all he has done as a baseball player and a Yankee, Alex Rodriguez just deserves a little bit of good old-fashioned respect.