Why Hank Aaron Owes Alex Rodriguez an Apology
In a New York Post interview in Sunday’s paper, baseball legend Hank Aaron lashed out at Alex Rodriguez, criticizing him for supposedly saying “he had a great winter.” Hammering Hank said A-Rod “should have a great winter all the time,” and criticized the Yankee’s focus. But that’s not what A-Rod said. And Aaron completely missed the point Rodriguez was making, and took what he did actually say out of context, ignoring the reason behind Rodriguez’s quote — his complete recovery from his hip injury.
Yes, I know that the idea of a quote being taken out of context is a bit of a cliché to cover up the speaker’s stupidity, but in this case it’s accurate, especially since A-Rod didn’t even use the actual words Aaron accused him of saying. Put it this way — if Rodriguez actually said what Aaron accused him of, don’t you think there might have been a headline or two about it before Aaron’s comments? We’re talking about a player who made newspaper covers for being fed popcorn at the Super Bowl, for goodness sake!
Rodriguez was simply making the point that this was the first winter in recent years where he was able to do full-scale workouts before the season without having to do physical therapy for his right hip, the hip he had surgery on in 2009. Here’s what A-Rod actually said before the supposed “great winter” quote, according to MLB.com:
In good spirits and largely controversy-free, Rodriguez said he is looking forward to the push for a 28th World Series championship after reporting to camp lighter, having shed about five pounds to drop his weight to 222.
His healing right hip, the one that required a March 2009 procedure that Rodriguez once feared might be career-threatening, was a major factor.
Rodriguez said that he visited with Dr. Marc Philippon, the Vail, Colo.-based specialist who performed the surgery, and Rodriguez was cleared to resume full baseball training during the winter.
“The last several years, I’ve probably been more 60-70 percent rehab and 30 percent training,” Rodriguez said. “This year he actually gave me the green light to go 100 percent training and get ready to play baseball.”
Then he said the quote Hank Aaron flipped out over, but used the phrase “good winter” and not “great winter”:
“This is as healthy as I’ve felt over the last several years,” the 35-year-old Rodriguez said. “It’s fun getting back to work. I have a good winter behind me of real work, probably my first since ’07 or ’08. I’m ready to go.”
Rodriguez’s hip was bothering him for some time before the surgery, so it would make sense that he would feel much better, and have a “good winter,” now that he’s fully healed from it. Don’t see anything controversial about what he said, other than in Aaron’s mind.
I don’t know what Aaron’s real issue is with A-Rod, whether it is the steroids, or the dating of movie stars like Cameron Diaz, but to accuse him of not working hard enough is just silly. Not to mention the fact that in Aaron’s day, players not have the workout regimen of today’s stars. Things like weight-lifting were considered counter-productive, and players used their spring training time, not the winter, to get in shape for the upcoming season. Some players, like Aaron himself, even had to work day jobs in the offseason.
The fact is that A-Rod has been accused of obsessing too much about the game, so it’s kind of bizarre for somebody of Aaron’s stature to accuse him of the opposite. For example, a Los Angeles Times article last summer talked about how Rodriguez and Dodgers coach Larry Bowa found themselves as kindred spirits, despite their very different personalities, because of their shared love of baseball.
The article said that when Bowa was a Yankee coach, Rodriguez would do 7:30 a.m. spring training fielding practice with the coach, with Bowa working Rodriguez “to the point of exhaustion.” The coach said Rodriguez is “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. He’s got so much natural ability, but I don’t think he’d be where he is with natural ability alone. People don’t understand how much time he spends in the cage or taking ground balls.” According to the piece, “on most days, Rodriguez had already lifted weights and run before they took the field together.” Bowa said, “There’s a reason for his greatness.”
As for Aaron, when Post writer Steve Serby asked him whether Rodriguez was a threat to break Aaron’s home run record, he said, “I think he is. If he puts things where it’s supposed to be at.” He also said, “I think Rodriguez has got too many irons in the fire right now. I think his head’s not level enough to the point where he can have the kind of year that it takes in order to go past all of the records in the book.”
Oy. Even Aaron isn’t immune to the psychobabble so prevalent when it comes to talking about Rodriguez. It’s kind of astonishing for somebody to accuse a three-time MVP who reached the 400, 500, and 600 home run levels quicker than anybody else in baseball history (including Aaron himself) of not yet having “the kind of year that it takes in order to go past all of the records in the book.” Puh-lease.
Both Aaron and Rodriguez had eight years of 40+ homer seasons, but with a big difference. Hank’s highest per-season total was 47. Rodriguez had a 47-homer season, as well as years with 48, 52, 54, and 57 home runs. But, according to Aaron, A-Rod’s head is still “not level enough to the point where he can have the kind of year that it takes in order to go past all of the records in the book.” He had a 1.069 OPS, hit 54 homers, and drove in 156 RBI, in 2007, the year he was accused of cheating on his wife with a stripper. If that’s not focused hitting, then what is?
Aaron also disaparagingly compared A-Rod’s focus to — who else — Derek Jeter. “When you’re playing baseball, you have to think about playing baseball,” saying that “if his focus would be the same as Jeter, then I think that he can do some great — he’s already done some great things — he can do some even greater things. I think sometimes it wavers. . . . It (doesn’t) stay on the same level.”
Just this week, though, Yankee co-owner Hank Steinbrenner seemed to take a veiled shot at Jeter’s focus, talking about players “concentrating on building mansions,” although Yammering Hank later took the silly criticism back.
But if thinking about baseball is the key, then even Jeter admirers Joe Torre and Tom Verducci would admit that Jeter would lose that contest. The Yankee captain has said more than once that he doesn’t watch baseball games on TV, even when it’s his own team playing. And there’s an anecdote in Torre’s and Verducci’s “The Yankee Years” book about Rodriguez’s shock to find out that Jeter didn’t have the MLB extra-innings package on his cable TV. Not to mention Hank Steinbrenner’s veiled shot at Jeter about building mansions;
Here’s the thing. I don’t know if Rodriguez will beat Aaron’s – or Bonds’ record — A-Rod has 613 now, and is two years younger than Aaron was at that point. But it has nothing to do with some supposed lack of focus, or him not being like Jeter. It’s all about whether he can stay healthy and continue to hit home runs into his 40s.
Aaron has the right to not respect Rodriguez because A-Rod is an admitted steroid user. But if that’s the case, he should come out and admit it, instead of spewing this psychobabble. At any rate, Aaron owes Rodriguez an apology for distorting what the slugger actually said. There are plenty of dopey things Rodriguez has said in his career, but this wasn’t one of them.
Photo by ConspiracyofHappiness
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