It hasnít exactly been the best of months for Alex Rodriguez.
The reigning Player of the Month for May has just four hits in June, and has watched his batting average fall 20 points in the last 11 days. He has yet to have a June homer or run batted in for New York, which was swept by the Oakland Aís at home over the weekend.
And as if that didnít twist the knife enough, David Ortiz was hitting yet another game-winning home run 200 miles to the north.
Since acquiring Rodriguez in February of 2004, the Yankees have a tremendous choke (2004) and an unceremonious early exit from the playoffs (2005) to show for their investment. Rodriguez has an MVP to show for himself, the one that belonged to Ortiz in the first place.
On the same day that Ortiz was mobbed at home plate, after swatting a ninth-inning three-run home run to beat the Rangers, 5-4, in Game 1 of an otherwise dour doubleheader, Rodriguez was treated to boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd. He went hitless on the day, and committed his 11th error of the season. He had 12 all of last year.
The New York Postís Joel Sherman writes today that itís time to face facts: A-Rod doesnít have ďit,Ē the indefinable mark of greatness that drives athletes. The numbers may not suggest that: He's hitting .319 with runners in scoring position, .333 in that situation with two out. Heís 3 for 6 with 11 runs batted in with the bases loaded.
But it doesnít take a genius to realize that something is missing. A-Rod is hitting .421 against the awful Kansas City Royals, just .222 against Boston, .200 against Baltimore, .176 against Toronto, and .211 versus Tampa Bay, the AL East teams against which he will play almost half of his games this season.
After he was jeered for the third straight game, Rodriguez said he is used to the fan reaction by now. With all of the Yankeesí injuries, Rodriguez has failed to give his team a piggyback ride, has yet to carry them to victory while they wonder what a season without Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui might bring. Ortiz is so used to all these baseball heroics that now heís taken to calling his home runs.
Itís up in the air as to which fans seem to dislike A-Rod more, but the contention here is that maybe Red Sox fans ought to imagine what life would have been like with the one-time shortstop. Rodriguez on the Yankees is one of the best things to ever happen to the Red Sox. They ought to love the fact that he continually comes up short, failing to deliver unless the game isnít on the line. I mean, the man should be cheered continually at Fenway. He should have a statue downtown. Sit him next to Red down at Faneuil.
The fact that this guy has the 2005 MVP, on the other hand, remains the joke it was the day he received it.
The common argument is that if Ortiz wasnít able to corral enough votes to take home the MVP last season that he never will. Iím not sure thatís the case any longer. But of course, there are plenty of BBWAA members who wonít consider Ortiz for a moment for the mere fact that he doesnít bring a Mizuno to the ballfield, which is, of course, ridiculous. If you canít consider the DH a pseudo ďposition,Ē then there shouldnít be a DH. Period.
But Ortiz is beginning to sway some of those voters. At least one member of the media in New York has already come out this season, after watching A-Rod every day, and admitted the wrong guy took home the hardware. Ortiz doesnít stop with his mind-boggling escapades. A-Rod has yet to start. He won an MVP in 2003 too, helping Texas to finish in last place. Heís hitting a healthy .305 for his career in the playoffs, but is coming off an October in which he hit just .133.
Heís just 30 years old, and by the time his career is over, he might have shattered the all-time home run record (whether itís Barry Bondsí or Hank Aaronís). Heís one of the best players in the game, but oddly enough, the one that you wouldnít want at bat with all the marbles on the line.
Ortiz? Of course. Of all the great hitters in the game today, thereís simply nobody else you would want up at the plate when everything matters the most. Heís not the best player in the game by any stretch, but heís one of the most important, as he proves over and over and over again.
A-Rod might be the gameís best player. Just not when it counts the most.