So we are 60% through the 2015 season, and it is safe to say that no one expected one Alexander Enmanuel Rodriguez to have the year he is having, perhaps not even A-Rod himself! The numbers are impressive by themselves, and when you factor in the leadership role and overall impact that A-Rod has had on the Yankees this year, you’ve got a real, dare I say, captain.
Any A-Rod story cannot be complete without a look at where he was from 2011-2014. Rodriguez had come off of his 13th straight 30 homer, 100 RBI season in 2010, and was still looked at as a major cog for the Yankees’ roster. Unfortunately, Rodriguez began to slide in 2011. He only played in 99 games due to hip, knee, and thumb injuries. Due to this, he only hit 16 homers. The next year wasn’t much better for Rodriguez. He played in 122 games, again battling injuries, and actually looked washed up at various points. Over a 3/4 season (he missed time with a fractured left hand), Rodriguez only barely surpassed his totals from his half-season in 2011 with 18 homers and a .272 average. And then in the playoffs, Rodriguez was of course horrible. He batted 3-25 (.120) with no homers and 12 strikeouts before getting benched versus Detroit in the ALCS. After “Flirt-Gate”, Rodriguez was found to be needing hip surgery again. But before he could undergo surgery, a different kind of roadblock rocked his world.
In January of 2013, Alex Rodriguez, along with various other major and minor league baseball players, were suspected of using Performance-Enhancing Drugs from Anthony Bosch’s Biogenesis Clinic in Florida. Rodriguez and the others were eligible to play until proven guilty, but A-Rod couldn’t play due to his balky hip. After rehab stints in the Yankee organization in which he blasted 3 homers, Rodriguez returned on the very day that the suspensions were levied. Rodriguez was to be suspended for all of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, including playoffs, without pay, for using PEDs and attempting to obstruct the MLB’s investigation. Of course, Rodriguez appealed his suspension and played out 2013. He was mildly successful, blasting 7 homers, but the toll of playing the field most every day wore him down, providing doubt if he would ever play again when combined with his impending suspension.
Rodriguez was ultimately suspended for all of the 2014 season, and he spent his time off well. He didn’t just sit around and do nothing. Rodriguez spent his time off refining his hitting approach to better suit his old age, studying pitchers, and of course, practically living in the weight room. He spent his time away from the game quietly, a rare twist for him, never talking to the media, rarely being seen out, just focusing on proving everyone wrong in the 2015 season. So far, Alex has done just that. His stats are eye-poppingly good. Rodriguez, batting third and playing designated hitter every day, has hit .277, gotten on base at a .375 clip, smashed 23 home runs, 58 RBI, and has even accumulated a stolen base. But how has Rodriguez been able to put up these numbers when he couldn’t even do it in 2011-2012, when he was on the PEDs?
A major part of this has to do with Joe Girardi’s management of Rodriguez. We knew coming into the season that Rodriguez would probably bat 7th, DH versus lefties, and spell Chase Headley or Mark Teixeira at third or first base on occasion. But when Rodriguez proved early that his bat had to be in the lineup every day in a premier position, Girardi was faced with an interesting dilemma. After a couple more fielding appearances, Girardi made the executive decision that Alex was to be a full-time DH barring emergency. This is the one single reason why Rodriguez has looked so fresh each game. He no longer has to play the field, and can spend his time in the dugout learning about each pitcher in great detail.
This re-dedication to the game has re-energized Rodriguez and his teammates. Whenever asked about Rodriguez, every Yankee player lights up instantly. This never happened for Rodriguez in years past. Back then, it was largely the same team every year, and A-Rod was an egotistic and controversial presence. That may still be a bit true now, but the time away from the game has allowed Rodriguez to realize how important the game is to him. It is a common sight during Yankees games to see Rodriguez helping out his teammates, providing encouragement or even comic relief. On days off, Rodriguez is often seen around his teammates having a great time. It is worth noting that on the Yankees roster, only Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, and Ivan Nova had ever played with Rodriguez during his pre-suspension years. This new, young, team embraces having a veteran with a wealth of knowledge like Rodriguez around. He knows he made some mistakes, but he is devoted to making sure his friends on the team don’t go through what he did. Yes, I did call A-Rod’s teammates his friends. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Yankee who was buddies with A-Rod in the Jeter years, but now everyone wants to be friends with Alex.
Alex Rodriguez is a new man for the second time in his baseball life. In 2009, after a hip injury and a PED controversy, Alex returned and shattered everyone’s expectations and regained the trust of his teammates and organization. After another hip injury and another PED controversy, Rodriguez has once again shattered expectations and regained the trust of both his peers and the suits above him. Rodriguez truly enjoys showing up to work each day, a trait that is allowing him to succeed, perhaps all the way to a second personal World Series ring.