One common theme mentioned during his record-breaking April (and conveniently forgotten during his putrid May) is that Alex Rodriguez was finally "just letting Alex be Alex" by putting aside petty controversies and perceived slights and just concentrating on playing the game.
Last night in Toronto, A-Rod gave us another reminder of why many baseball fans love to hate him. It's not his talent, his dashing good looks, his gargantuan paycheck, or even his success with Canadian strippers.
No, it's because despite all of those advantages over the mere mortals against whom he plays, he still doesn't know the difference between big league and bush league.
To wit: in the ninth inning of a one-run game, A-Rod screamed at Toronto's rookie third baseman, Howie Clark, as Clark was settling under a pop fly for what would have been the third out. Clark backed off the ball, thinking he'd heard shortstop John McDonald call him off. The ball fell in, the Yankees tacked on four more runs, and they won the game 10-5, keeping them out of the AL East cellar for the time being.
George King of the New York Post summarized the incident and postgame reactions in both clubhouses. My favorite quote came from crusty Toronto left fielder Matt Stairs, who's played in more leagues than Crash Davis throughout the years. An excerpt from King's fine article:
"It was a [horsespit] play; I hope you use that," Stairs said. "Ask his teammates about it and if they say, 'No comment,' that will tell you."
Derek Jeter did exactly that.
"I don't know; you will have to ask him," Jeter said. "I wasn't out there."
I've heard a few people weighing in on the incident today on various talk shows and blogs, and I think I can summarize the opinions thusly: Anybody who's played the game and has respect for the game knows what A-Rod did was wrong. Maybe not illegal, but certainly not "the right way" to play the game. Anybody who's backing A-Rod either never played the game, is a Yankee apologist, or is a superstar suckup who'd never criticize a bigshot he idolizes or a fellow member of the exclusive fraternity of MLB superstars (see Morgan, Joe).
First A-Rod got nailed for slapping Bronson Arroyo with his purse in the 2004 ALCS, and now this. I think a pattern is developing. Here's a guy who's so insecure that he has to rely on borderline illegal tricks that clearly shatter every unwritten rule known to man in order to maximize his chances to win. This isn't remotely like a shortstop putting on a decoy at second base to trick a runner on a fly ball (think Greg Gagne and Lonnie Smith in the 1991 World Series). This is a player acting like a weasel on the field, not just trying to break an opponent's concentration but trying to make him think his teammate is calling him off the ball. That might fly in Little League, when you might expect the kids don't know any better, but not in the bigs, and certainly not with the Yankees, whose fans are quick to remind you that they invented the game.
Bush league baseball is kind of like pornography -- hard to define, but you know it when you see it. And this, my friends, is bush league.