There are two kinds of people in the world—Yankees fans and anyone-but-the-Yankees fans—and no doubt the latter took pleasure last week in seeing the team they love to hate swept ignominiously from the playoffs by the Tigers. It's hard, too, to blame them for whatever delight they took in the epic failure of Alex Rodriguez, not only the most visible symbol of the Yankees' playoff struggles but also a totem of all their successes and excesses. But A-Rod does not require your pity, even after he was benched for the last two games of the American League Championship Series. With five years and $114 million remaining on a 10-year, $275 million contract, he can comfort himself by lying down on a bed of Benjamins.
Still, there's something uniquely sad about living in Yankees World, as Rodriguez has discovered. The only month that matters for the Yanks is October; having reached the playoffs in 17 of the past 18 years, they consider the regular season little more than extended spring training. Every Yankee knows that 30 bad postseason at bats can erase whatever good may have come of the 500 or so that came before—which could help explain why the Yankees have been so tightly wound in recent Octobers.
There is no middle ground in the Yankees' experience—only complete victory or utter despair. They never get to enjoy one of those shocking, miraculous seasons, as the Orioles did this year. They'll never be the plucky, overachieving Yanks, and their fans will never give them a standing ovation for a valiant but losing effort, as A's fans gave their plucky, overachieving team after it was knocked out of the playoffs by Detroit. With their payroll and pedigree, there is no way for the Yankees to surpass expectations. Winning brings more relief than elation. Losing, only outrage.
The lightning Rod is once again A-Rod, who went 3 for 25 with 12 strikeouts and not a single RBI in the postseason. By the end of the ALCS, he was reduced by manager Joe Girardi to the role of garbage-time pinch hitter. The Yankees' faithful want A-Rod exiled, traded away, and the franchise brain trust just might accommodate them. Though Brian Cashman denied a report that he had discussed a deal for A-Rod with the Marlins, it would be folly for the New York G.M. not to agree to pay the lion's share of Rodriguez's salary if some other team would, inexplicably, take him and put an end to the bizarre, increasingly depressing nine-year drama that has been A-Rod in Gotham. Alas, the 37-year-old Rodriguez has a no-trade contract and no plans to approve a deal. "I love New York City," he said after the Yankees' elimination. "I plan to be here. And I plan to come back and be productive for this team for quite a while." The question is, Why on earth would Rodriguez want to do that?
Not surprisingly for a player who has posed for pictures kissing his own mirrored reflection, A-Rod has never been a model of self-awareness, and he seems not to recognize the degree to which he is not just scorned in New York but also mocked as a self-absorbed stumblebum. It would be one thing if he were just an overpriced over-the-hill hitter. The Yankees have reason to fear the crippling weight of other long-term deals (see Teixeira, Mark), but Rodriguez has added so much buffoonery to the mix that most Yankees fans just can't stomach seeing him besmirch the sacred pinstripes anymore. The report that during Game 1 of the ALCS, A-Rod used some of his spare time on the bench ogling and then trying to coax an Australian bikini model in the stands to give him her phone number might be "laughable" in his estimation, but it also fits neatly into his history of awkward absurdity.
Rodriguez doesn't seems to realize that the fans and the franchise are fed up with all of it, not only his declining skills but also the unintentional comedy of his Yankees tenure—the lovey-dovey popcorn feeding by actress Cameron Diaz at Super Bowl XLV, the pathetic attempt to slap the ball out of pitcher Bronson Arroyo's hand during the Yankees' 2004 playoff collapse against the Red Sox, the shirtless sunbathing in Central Park in 2006, the attempt to blame his past steroid use on youthful na√Øveté, the report by a former girlfriend that A-Rod had two paintings of himself as a centaur hanging above his bed. At his advanced age, Rodriguez doesn't have the time to hit his way back into a city's good graces. Frankly, and more to the point, he doesn't have the ability either.
He would be better off agreeing to any trade the Yankees can make—and good luck with that—especially if it's to his hometown Marlins, which desperately crave celebrity and relevance. You wonder whether Rodriguez is resistant to a move because being a Yankee, even a reviled one, feeds his outsized ego. In the end, maybe he and the Yankees franchise are too much alike: in love with their own images. Rodriguez needs to realize that the best he can hope for is to finish his career someplace where he will receive more affection than derision, and that place will never be Yankee Stadium. Time to look away from the mirror and see the handwriting on the wall.
A-Rod seems not to recognize the degree to which he is not just scorned by Yankees fans but also mocked.