First, Bill Madden rings in with this:
I don’t doubt for a second that A-Rod feels he’s had an enormous burden lifted from his shoulders, although I won’t go as far as he does in saying the truth set him free because he didn’t exactly tell the whole truth under the pavilion last year. But he told at least enough to set him apart from Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and win sufficient support from his teammates and the fans. Of course, much more than his words, it was his bat – 30 homers, 100 RBI after missing the first five weeks of the season with hip surgery and then six more homers and 18 RBI in the postseason – that truly set him free.
As we said, he sounded sincere and humble, and he certainly does seem to be on his way to becoming “one of the guys” after winning himself his first ring. Still, when it comes to his desire to just blend in, he has to know his teammates and the media view that as a work in progress. Too much happened before he reached that crossroads interrogation session last spring.
Now it is a new year and he was back under the pavilion telling us that he is indeed a new A-Rod. And there can be no better story than a ballplayer transforming from a colossal, self-serving jerk to a genuine, likeable person – if only because it’s happened so seldom, at least while the guy is still playing or in the prime of his career. I would maintain the self-centered, vain, disingenuous A-Rod was much the product of his agent, Scott Boras, who brainwashed him (for considerable profit) from when he was a teenager into believing he was above everyone. I also believe that his choice to do steroids was out of insecurity. Instead of just using his natural talent, he felt he needed something extra to live up to the money and the exalted place in the game where Boras convinced him he belonged.
A-Rod kept saying Thursday how much he is at peace with himself. If he truly is, I have some advice for him on how to remain there: When you tell people now that it’s not about you, it’s about team, believe it. Make sure your name is in the sports pages a whole lot more than in the gossip pages. Understand that being the highest-paid player in the game doesn’t have anything to do with respect.
Next, we have this from Joel Sherman:
Alex Rodriguez yesterday faced the media in the same place around the same time as a year ago. But this was so different. Rodriguez had no prepared statement, no furrowed brow of shame, no story that was harder to believe than “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Looking comfortable in a black sweat suit, the Stepford version of Rodriguez re-emerged for the 2010 season. He was humble and non-controversial. He stuck carefully to a mantra of emphasizing team and winning. In a covered party area behind the left-field stands at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Rodriguez offered the vanilla version that so helped him navigate his rocky road.
No longer was he a 24/7 distraction or the black hole of the clubhouse, sucking the life out of his surroundings. And when the complications were stripped away and it was just Alex Rodriguez vs. a baseball, he reminded us again that there have been few humans better at that confrontation. He took that serenity into the playoffs and wiped away the notion that he could not perform under postseason duress. He was no passenger on the way to a championship. He was a conductor.
Hey, let’s face it, no one would run to Vegas to bet on Rodriguez maintaining this kind of discipline. Come on, deep down, we really still are unsure about this guy. We wonder if this was all an act. We think about making over/under bets for the date of his first outrageous remark of the season.
And while it is important to the success of the 2010 Yankees that Rodriguez remain as uncontroversial as possible, it is even more vital to Rodriguez’s legacy. Because what if last year really was the first year of the rest of A-Rod’s career?
What if he really did gain perspective and self-awareness and inner peace? Yes, it means that the mental anguish that arose to hinder his otherworldly skill is gone. That bodes well for his production to remain elite.
But it is so much more than that.
Lastly, there’s this via Ken Davidoff:
He’ll never be Mr. Warm and Fuzzy. Nor is he likely to join the Fox broadcast booth upon retirement. People can stretch and alter themselves only so much.
But Alex Rodriguez lived up to his words last season, and he insists he’ll make 2010 an encore.
Now, the concern: Will A-Rod’s ego swell back up to its pre-confession level? Although he helped the Yankees tremendously from 2004 through 2008, he did alienate teammates and superiors with his prima donna ways, as detailed in Joe Torre’s 2009 book, “The Yankee Years.”
I believe what A-Rod believes: His postseason turnaround partly could be attributed to luck and other external factors, but also to his simple relaxation. He no longer felt the weight of the world in every at-bat, because he trusted his teammates.
With another quiet, successful season, A-Rod will have fully won the benefit of the doubt on his own team.
I’m still waiting for someone to ask the big question…
Last season, so many were willing to credit Kate Hudson for having a supporting role in stabilizing Alex’s personal life. And, now she’s gone. So, if things go a liitle wrong for Rodriguez this season, and he starts to get low, will he be able to pull out of it without Hudson there to be the wind beneath his wings? Or, was all that “Hudson as the Lady in White” stuff last year just more A-rodrama hyperbole?