• Schmidt: A-Rod Needs To Ease Up

    Posted by on September 29th, 2007 · Comments (0)

    From Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt, via an AP feature:

    With all due respect to the great years by my friends George, Wade and Brooks, the greatest year ever by a third baseman will very soon be owned by Alex Rodriguez.

    He’ll eclipse my year in 1980 when we won the World Series, Brett’s MVP and near-.400 year, and you can pick any one of several great years by Boggs and Robinson.

    My regular season of 48 home runs and 122 RBIs looks rather minuscule in comparison, but project that into today’s environment and it would be similar.

    The challenge ahead is [Alex’s] well-documented nemesis, as it was for me: the postseason.

    In my case, the 1980 NL East race wasn’t decided until the final series in Montreal. There was no wild-card fallback — you either were the best in the division or you went home.

    For me, that was a career-defining series, the series that erased the ghosts of postseason past. You see, you can take all the regular season game-ending home runs, Gold Gloves and MVP awards, and they mean very little compared to success in the postseason.

    For our Phillies, Montreal might as well have been the postseason. We had to win two of three at Olympic Stadium to win the division against Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Steve Rogers and company.

    Long story short, with the pressure on, I went 6-for-11 with home runs that won the first two games.

    I mention my stats not to brag, but to make the point that those two games erased the ghosts of my past and established my ability to come through in the clutch. We failed in 1976, ’77 and ’78, and in each case I stunk it up as a hitter.

    I carried that burden of postseason flops with me each year. It’s the same burden A-Rod should erase this fall.

    There are always postseason flops, but when you’re the star of the show, when the focus is you, people hold you to a higher standard. It’s not enough to lead the team to the post season, it’s can you finish the job? It’s what you get paid the big bucks for! A-Rod, yes, super large bucks!

    Here’s the real story on “postseason pressure” Most major league players treat every at bat, every pitch and every game like nothing else matters at that moment.

    Winning the battle of who you’re facing, the pitcher-hitter battle, is the ultimate in sports. It’s our competitive nature, it’s part of why we are in the highest league.

    For some of us, though — and I include A-Rod and myself in this group — we sense and apply a greater importance to our role in the big games, in the more important series, in the postseason.

    It would be better for us if we didn’t, if we could treat them like games in April. The ol’ “big bucks” theory applies again. When I played, I was the highest paid, I did feel the need to lead. Same with A-Rod today.

    The problem comes when this sense of increased pressure affects your metabolism and your thinking process, and that increases your anxiety level. For someone like A-Rod, an intelligent hitter with a strong sense of “feel,” a small flaw in the stroke can become a big problem when the pressure is on.

    Combine that with opposing pitchers grinding on every pitch to him, a couple key hard-hit outs, and announcers and fans waiting for him to give them a slight opening for criticism.

    Much of my career I feared failure. I believe A-Rod did, too.

    I’ve studied this because I wanted to be Rose or Derek Jeter, that kind of player. We all do.

    I concluded that an athletes that was extremely gifted physically was better off with a blase or indifferent attitude concerning the public perception of him. Rose? Reggie? Gary Sheffield? Manny Ramirez? There are many more.

    It helps to place little, if any, credence on what people think of you or what writers or the media are writing about you. To be impervious to pressure, you either have to be borderline ignorant, or totally secure with yourself as a person. You must have a plan of attack to combat the demons of pressure.

    Alex Rodriguez wants to be liked. He cares about his image, the public’s perception of him, and he wants to add adjectives like “clutch” and “winner” to his resume.

    He wants to be perceived in the same way as Jeter, but he knows he has to earn it. You can’t fault him for that. However, the correct approach is to let it evolve, let it come to you.

    Keeping your focus on the little things allows the big ones to find you. This is great advice for all postseason combatants — especially one named A-Rod, who has one final hurdle.

    Michael Jack Schmitty offering up some unsolicited, yet still somewhat interesting, insight on A-Rod, huh? But, here’s the deal: The “pressing” Alex Rodriguez disappeared this year. It seems, that, this year, A-Rod is not so wrapped up with what people think about him.

    And, as I wrote five days ago:

    The funny thing is, that, before Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, Alex always seemed to hit well in the post-season. Go ahead, check the stats. His numbers from the 1997 ALDS, 2000 ALDS and ALCS, and 2004 ALDS are very good.

    Basically, it’s been Games 5, 6, and 7 of the 2004 ALCS and the 9 games from the ALDS of 2005 and 2006 where A-Rod has failed. These contests are Alex’s October Dirty Dozen.

    Personally, and this is just a hunch, I think Rodriguez will have a fine post-season this year. Maybe it won’t be off-the-charts, in terms of being positive. But, it will not be a total bomb like 2005 and 2006. And, the fans will be fine with that effort – regardless if the Yankees win or lose.

    Granted, A-Rod had an MVP-season in 2005 and then did not have a good post-season. So, I suppose that anything is possible.

    Still, this season, Alex hit (in terms of BA/OBA/SLG) .333/.442/.861 against the Angels, and .333/.407/1.083 against the Indians, and .254/.397/.540 against the Red Sox. This said, it would not shock me to see A-Rod tear the cover off the ball this October.

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