A-Rod, The Rise, The Fall, and the Ruins

Looking over some old pictures, I came across a couple of a Yankees game I went to. There’s a group picture of all of us, and there’s one of me and my cousin Paul, standing up and clapping at something that had just happened. The picture was taken from behind, and what stuck out most was what was written on the back of my jersery: Rodriguez, and below it, the number 13. “I had an A-Rod jersery?” I asked incredulously. “Sure,” my mom said, “you used to think he was great.”

And didnt’ we all? He was the chosen one, the greatest hitter in the past 50 years, the one who was supposed to reclaim the home run record from Bonds and stand alone with 763 home runs or more. He was supposed to do it clean, so Hank Aaron could rest in peace knowing the person who surpassed him for the home run crown had done it clean, free of any PED’s. Brian Cashman traded for A-Rod because he wanted one thing-a 27th championship.

The star of the show in Texas and before that, Seattle, A-Rod suddenly wasn’t top dog in his first season in pinstripes, 2004. He had to slide over to third base to accomadate the Yankee Captain, and he was surrounded by other stars. Mariano Rivera, Gary Sheffield, Jeter, Bernie Williams. Yankees fans didn’t have to like him. And New Yorkers can be brutal if you don’t live up to your expectations. He turned in a very good season, but not good enough. .286 and 36 home runs is not enough for the former MVP. 24 errors wouldn’t endear you to the fans of any team. For the first time, A-Rod was booed. He wasn’t used to that.

He quickly recovered though. A-Rod turned in some stellar seasons with the Yankees in the following years, winning 2 MVP awards on a perennial playoff team. But that still wasn’t enough for Brian Cashman, or for the fans. A horrific collapse in 2004 followed by repeated failures to return to the fall classic put Yankees fans on edge. They hadn’t won a world series in nearly 10 years, which was pushing it with the fans who had hoped for another dynasty, led by No. 13 himself. To make matters worse, A-Rod struggled in the playoffs. He was bad. Really bad. Bernie Williams had retired, Gary Sheffield had left, Randy Johnson was gone. It was all falling to A-Rod to come up with the clutch hit, drive in the game winning run. That was his job. Drive Damon and Jeter in. He did it exceptionally well in the regular season, but continued to fail in the playoffs. In 2008, Alex was still good, but the Yankees had fallen on tough times. Upsurped by the Tampa Bay Rays, former cellar dwellars, and their hated rival the Red Sox, the Yankees failed to make the playoffs. This was A-Rod’s first year into his infamous 27 million dollars a year contract, which now stings the Yankees in every deal they try to make.

Joe Torre, who had been at the helm of the Yankees for their 4 world series title in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, was out, replaced by Joe Girardi, who was a catcher on that 1996 team that broke the drought of 15 years without a World Series appearance. Torre took batting coach Don Mattingly with him. Cashman went out and spent big, hauling in big time free agents Mark Texeira and CC Sabbathia. A-Rod started the year out rough. Just 2 years after vehemently denying steroid usage, he admitted that he had used them when he was with Texas from 2001-2003. Those were arguably the best years of his career. A-Rod started the year on the DL, and failed to make the All Star team for the first time since he was a rookie. But when he returned, the Yankees welcomed his power bat back in the lineup. They surged in September as they rolled into the playoffs and cruised into the world series. For the first time in his career, A-Rod was having some sucess in the playoffs. And for this, fans loved him. Just win games Alex, that’s all we want, the fans seemed to say with each cheer as stepped into the box. The Yankees got big help from A-Rod, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettite. Pettite and Matsui were fan favorites. With a little help from Phillies closer Brad Lidge (who was terrible in the series), the Yankees overcame a record 5 series home runs by Chase Utley and dominant pitching from Cliff Lee to secure their 27th World Championship. The Hero? A-Rod.

But it all went downhill from there. A-Rod was okay in 2010, but not what he needed to be. 2011 and 2012 he lost some of his power. He played hurt, and it cost him in a horrific 2012 ALDS in which the Yankees went down with a whimper. You could hear fan’s hearts break when Derek Jeter’s ankle snapped in a way it wasn’t supposed to. A-Rod was benched, pinch hit for. Was this the end for one of the greatest players of the 2000’s?

And just when it couldn’t get any worse, the news came out that he was using PED’s again, and was recruiting others to the Florida based Biogenisis clinic that is located right across from the park that is named after him at the University of Miami. Major League based suspended him an amazing 211 games. It sounds harsh, but there may have been more than a few sighs of relief in the state of New York, as that suspension will save the Yankees millions. A-Rod is appealing the suspension, and it most likely and should be reduced. The standard policy for a first time offender is 50 games, and even with special circumstances (rumors that he was recruting for the clinic), 211 games is astronomical. 75 to 100 sounds more reasonable. A-Rod is the definition of an embattled player right now, but he is hitting .319 with 2 home runs in his return to the Bronx Bombers lineup. Coupled with a surging Alfonso Soriano, (the very player the Yankees traded to get A-Rod), the Yankees are making what might be their last playoff push for 10 years. If A-Rod were to be suspended for 211 games, he would be 40 when he returns. Away from the game for 2 years, at that age, A-Rod would not be able to keep up. Selig was attempting to force him into retirement. Just when it seems that everyone in America hates him, after he has been villified by the press over and over again, the fact that there are still people in his corner became very apparent last night. Ryan Dempster threw way inside to A-Rod 3 times before finally hitting him with the last pitch. The Fenway crowd roared, but many baseball fans over the country shook their heads in disgust. Is A-Rod a cheater? Yes. Is he a bad person? I don’t know, I’m not in his shoes. I can’t judge someone’s decisions without knowing everything they have to deal with. Does he deserve to be suspended? Yes. But he doesn’t deserve to be thrown at 4 times in a row. Dempster had his chance, missed, and kept trying until he plunked him. He should have been tossed. As much as I and many other fans dislike A-Rod for soiling the game, for taking records that don’t deserve to be his, we all felt for him as Dempster continued to take potshots at him. To his credit, A-Rod retaliated in the best way possible: hitting one to dead center straight over the wall. He had some choice words for Dempster, and I don’t blame him.

So where does Alex Rodriguez stand at the end of all this? He is 11 home runs shy of surpassing Wille Mays for 4th All Time on the career home runs list. He won’t pass Bonds anytime soon at his current rate. He won’t be the greatest ballplayer to walk this earth. And maybe he realized that when he took steroids. Maybe he was scared that he wouldn’t be as good as everyone thought he was going to be. He would have been great, he would have been a legend with his god given gifts. But he wouldn’t have been the best, the greatest of all time with his natural talent. So where does he stand? A lier, a cheater, a hated money guzzling dissapointment? Or a great ballplayer that wanted to be more than great, a ballplayer who wanted to be the best there ever was, and made a poor choice? You decide.

A young, pre-steroids Alex Rodriguez, full of potentional. Credit for this image goes to http://www.stevekrupa.com.

A-Rod is rung up yet again in a game against the Orioles. Credit for this image goes to http://www.nydailynews.com

A fan holds up a sign calling for A-Rod to redeem himself for his mistakes. The way to do that? Win ballgames. Credit for the image goes to http://www.mbird.com

A-Rod crushes a home run in his glory days. Credit for the image goes to http://www.nyulocal.com

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First Impressions: 2013 Niners Training Camp

It’s almost football season again, and I’m excited seeing as the other team in San Francisco hasn’t been playing quite as well (looking at you, Giants). The Niners have looked sharp in training camp as they prepare for a season in which they hope to raise the Lombardi trophy. It’s definitely possible.

QB: Colin Kaepernick was electrifying last year, lighting up defenses on the ground and in the air, and he has looked good in training camp despite some offseason drama. Kaepernick is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, but don’t be surprised if he hits a sophomore slump in his second year of starting. A true measure of his value is how he copes with and overcomes those possible struggles. Still, Kaepernick has all the tools to turn in an All-Pro season, so he could easily dominate again and prove me wrong. Behind him are Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien, but they won’t see the field much unless Kaepernick gets hurt. As a rushing quarterback, there is always more chances to get smeared by a linebacker in the open field. Kaepernick was one of the best in the league last year at avoiding hard contact, and he needs to keep that up to keep him fresh and injury free. Kaepernick is good at running to the sidelines and his timing on slides has been good as well. He is poised for another excellent season as San Francisco’s signal caller.

RB: Frank Gore had another productive year last year, but as he ages the Niners will want to limit his carries to keep him fresh for the playoffs. He’s on the wrong side of 30 for NFL running backs, but the Niners all-time rushing leader should stick around for a couple more years. A strong supporting cast of speedy young running backs like Kendall Hunter, LaMicheal James, and Marcus Lattimore should help ease the load on Gore so that he’s ready to plow through defenses late in the 4th quarter. Hunter was a pleasant surprise as a 4th round pick backing up Gore in the 2011 season before an Achilles’ tendon injury shortened his 2012 season. James electrified the NCAA for 3 years with a couple of Heisman runner ups with his blinding speed up in Eugene while playing for the Oregon Ducks. Concerns about his injury history and size had him slip to round 2 of the 2012 draft, where the 49ers were more than happy to select him. His speed will play a major factor on special teams and late in games if the 49ers hope to play deep into the postseason again. The 3rd running back selected by the Niners in recent years is Marcus Lattimore out of South Carolina. Lattimore projected to be 1st round pick and an NFL star before 2 severe knee injuries sidelined him in his last 2 years at South Carolina. If he can stay healthy, he may be San Francisco’s running back of the future.

WR: Signing Anquan Boldin may have been the best move GM Trent Baalke’s best offseason move, and it looks even better now that last year’s top receiver, Michael Crabtree, is out for most of the year with an Achilles heel injury that occurred in March. The rest of the cast of WR’s looks banged up, with Kyle Williams, Kassim Osgood, and others dealing with minor injuries. San Francisco signed free agent Austin Collie after Training Camp. Collie, a once promising young receiver, had his career derailed by concussions. If he can avoid getting injured, he could be a major piece in the offense.

Defense: Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman are the best in the game at inside linebacker. The consistency and dominance of the tandem is unmatched in the NFL. The secondary lost No. 3 cornerback Chris Culliver to an ACL tear yesterday, but hopefully former Raiders star Nmadi Asoumgha can reclaim his form from his pre-philedalphia and step up to man that spot behind starters Carlos Rodgers and Tarell Brown. Competing with Asoumgha will be 24 year old Tramaine Brock, a hard hitting corner who showed flashes of potential last year. The safeties are returning veteran Donte Whitner and rookie Eric Reid, who replaces All-Pro Dashon Goldson. Reid, a 2013 first round pick out of LSU, has the tools and work ethic to succeed as a starter in his first season.

Special Teams: Andy Lee may be the best punter in the league, no issues there. Phil Dawson is the new kicker, replacing David Akers who was excellent his first year as a Niner but was inconsistent last year. Dawson looks to be a suitable replacement. Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams will most likely return kicks, and the unit looks to be strong again.