MLB

A-Rod's legacy nowhere near Jeter's

Yankees manager Joe Girardi on the tough decisions he made regarding A-Rod.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi on the tough decisions he made regarding A-Rod.
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Reid Forgrave

Reid Forgrave has worked for the Des Moines Register, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Seattle Times. His work has been recognized by Associated Press Sports Editors, the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and the Society for Features Journalism. Follow him on Twitter.

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The New York Yankees' four-game exit from the American League Championship Series, which finally and mercifully ended with Thursday’s embarrassing 8-1 drubbing by the Detroit Tigers, was more than just the eighth time in nine years the Yankees have been unable to reach a World Series with baseball’s highest payroll.

The series also marked the beginning of the end of two remarkable careers in pinstripes.

It’s too early to tell how the fractured ankle suffered by shortstop Derek Jeter in the 12th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS will affect his future as shortstop-for-life in the Bronx. It’s also too early to tell how the future of third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be affected by his fractured ego, as manager Joe Girardi benched baseball’s highest paid player two games in, after A-Rod went 0-for-18 this postseason against right-handed pitchers, including 12 strikeouts.

But what’s clear is this: If this series did in fact mark the beginning of the end of two great Yankee careers, these careers couldn’t possibly have reached these twilights on more different notes. When Jeter dove across the infield for a groundball in the 12th inning of Game 1 and came up grimacing with a fractured ankle, the play was typical Jeter: hustling, doing whatever he could to help his team win, playing the game the right way. The hush that fell over Yankee Stadium as Jeter lay prone on the ground was the type of deference reserved for a player worshipped by Yankee fans, a man who has ascended to the level of a Ruth, a Gehrig, a Mantle.

And if A-Rod’s pinch-hit appearance in the sixth inning of Game 4 — a lazy fly ball to center field after backing himself into a 1-2 count, then returning to the plate with one out in the ninth to hit a chopper to short — marks the last time he wears the pinstripes, he will have spent his last series as a Yankee in true A-Rod fashion: more tabloid sideshow than three-time MVP.

First was the simple math that caused New York media to get up in arms and Girardi to bench him. A-Rod was having his worst-ever postseason at the plate, which is saying something, considering the only great postseason he has ever had was 2009, when he won his only World Series ring. He ended this postseason going 3-for-25 with a .120 batting average, and with no RBI. The man with more career home runs than all but four players has been without a home run in his past 86 postseason at-bats.

If Jeter had that sort of postseason, he’d be forgiven. After all, he’s Derek Jeter, Captain Clutch, the baseball antithesis of me-first A-Rod.

But as A-Rod struggled pathetically at the plate, the tabloid narrative of his days in New York just kept building. First was the report in the New York Post that, after getting pinch-hit for in Game 1, A-Rod allegedly flirted with two young women behind the dugout, even throwing them a ball with a note asking for their phone numbers. Then, as Girardi left A-Rod out of the starting lineup in Games 3 and 4, came the report that this offseason the Yankees could consider trading the highest paid player of all time to the Miami Marlins. (The Yankees immediately denied the report, which first came from Keith Olbermann on his MLB.com blog.)

PRIDE OF THE YANKEES

Which pinstripe greats made the list of the best Bronx Bombers ever?

Think about that: If true, the Marlins would be taking a 37-year-old admitted performance-enhancing-drug cheat who is well into the downhill side of his career. To get rid of him — assuming A-Rod would approve the deal — the Yankees would have to take on an enormous amount of the remaining $114 million left on his final five years. It would be a sad and unpredictable ending for the man the Yankees had hoped would break Barry Bonds’ all-time home-run record as a Yankee. They’d be sending him from the media capital of the United States to the baseball backwater of Miami, which even with this year’s new ballpark and new crop of free agents ranked only 18th in baseball in home attendance this year, barely above San Diego and Pittsburgh.

If you only look on the surface, these two ballplayers who’ve together made more than half a billion dollars in their career aren’t that different: Both shortstops (A-Rod moved to third when he moved to the Yankees,) both enormously talented, and both playboys of Manhattan. But where A-Rod seemed to need all the attention, Jeter merely tolerated it. A-Rod wanted to be seen as the big man on campus, while Jeter simply was the big man on campus, the man who dated Minka Kelly and Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel.

The famously hungry New York media gloated over Jeter’s conquests. Meanwhile, they mocked A-Rod. His alleged gallivanting with Madonna. His admission of using PEDs. His selfish clubhouse demeanor that got him the nickname “A-Fraud.” And, of course, the reports of paintings in his house that have him depicted as a centaur.

If this is the beginning of the end — the Yankees not winning a single game after Jeter fell to injury, while A-Rod dominated the headlines of the four-game sweep with an enormous slump and a tin ear — it’s the most appropriate ending possible.

Before Game 4’s batting practice, reporters asked A-Rod about his relationship with his manager. His answer was telling: “The one thing I’ll always give Joe a lot of credit is he’s been very good to me over the years. He has a lot of equity with me.”

Wait — a manager has equity with the player?

It was an example of a superstar’s bloated ego inverting the relationship between a player and his boss. It was a typical A-Rod me-first response. But perhaps the most damning thing anyone could say about A-Rod saying those words is this: It was something Derek Jeter, the Yankee who will always be remembered as a Yankee, never would have said.

Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com

Tagged: Yankees, Derek Jeter

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