By Sweeny Murti
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David Ortiz is beloved in Boston. Alex Rodriguez is hated … well, just about everywhere it would seem. Is there a double standard? To some degree, yes. But if you look closer, it’s easy to see the differences.
A-Rod and Ortiz, it was reported long ago, both turned up with positives in the 2003 survey that marked the first PED testing of any kind in baseball. But the two superstars went separate ways after that.
Ortiz has denied taking any PEDs. And there has been no evidence in the years since that points to guilt, other than non-Boston fans who just don’t want to believe anyone can put up numbers like that and be innocent. That’s what the Steroid Era has done. It’s made us question everything we see.
A-Rod, after his presence on the 2003 list became public, admitted to three years of steroid use. The admission does have some redeeming value in our society. And it did have a positive effect on A-Rod for a little while. But then came a little thing called Biogenesis and A-Rod was thrust back into the PED spotlight. Fool me once, fool me twice — however that saying goes, this is how the baseball public seems to feel about A-Rod now.
But it’s not just this second affiliation with a PED story that’s put A-Rod at the opposite end of the spectrum from Ortiz.
Ortiz has been a postseason hero for a decade, hitting .400 in Boston’s miraculous run in 2004 and batting .688 in this year’s World Series. A-Rod finally had a great postseason in 2009 to help lead the Yankees to a title, but owns just a .160 average with 0 HR in playoff action since then.
Ortiz is a beloved presence inside the Red Sox clubhouse, seen as a true leader complete with inspirational speeches. A-Rod is a better fit than he was a few years ago, but still lacks the unifying everyman quality that teammates praise with Ortiz.
Perhaps the biggest thing that hurts A-Rod is that he doesn’t have the hometown fan base like Ortiz, a hero in Boston like Havlicek, Bird, or Brady. A-Rod has played for three teams in his career, and he doesn’t have a strong loyal fan base in any of those places, vilified in Seattle and Texas, tolerated in New York only when he performs well.
Over the years, here’s about the only thing that Ortiz has done to to ruffle feathers: he stares at home runs too long. A-Rod has a book filled with gaffes from “The Slap Play” to “The Ha Play” to “Get Off My Mound,” right up to flirting with women in the stands during a playoff game.
What seems to get under the skin of most Yankee fans I speak to is that Ortiz is not painted with the same PED brush as A-Rod. The simple answer is this: Ortiz wasn’t implicated in Biogenesis, the biggest steroid scandal since BALCO. He wasn’t named in the Mitchell Report (neither was Rodriguez). And while a lengthy legal process will eventually (hopefully) tell us if the treatment of A-Rod has been fair or not, we know at the very least there have been associations with unsavory people, from shady docs to underground poker mavens. Guilty of bad judgement? Absolutely. Of anything more? That’s not as clear, but lacks benefit of the doubt.
Maybe neither one will ever get into the Hall of Fame because of the 2003 testing issue. But they will build a statue to Ortiz in Boston one day and cheer him at every Fenway appearance for decades.
A-Rod won’t ever get that treatment in New York. Fair or not.
But if Ortiz’s name ever comes up on a list again — it will all come crumbling down, just like it has for A-Rod.
— While the Yankees sat home to watch the new model organizations of baseball — the Red Sox and the Cardinals — in the World Series, just remember a couple things:
In the format that MLB has created, the baseball playoffs have been turned into the NCAA tournament. In the last 14 seasons, the Red Sox have missed that tournament seven times. And the Cardinals once came away with a World Series title after a season in which they won only 83 games (2006), and then didn’t win a single playoff game again until 2011.
The Yankees are not the same powerhouse they used to be, but they have gotten into this new Big Dance more often than anyone else. It doesn’t mean they don’t have to think about changing the way a few things are done internally. But they are still more successful on the field than we sometimes realize, especially when compared to other teams perceived as better-run organizations.
— The Robinson Cano Saga will get interesting soon. He seems to be enjoying himself in Europe with Jay-Z, a lengthy birthday celebration for the Yankees star who turned 31 last week. Cano’s free agency will begin to gain steam when the five-day window expires next week and the bidding process begins in earnest.
Don’t expect a quick resolution though. Free agency is a game that has moved at glacial paces over the years. The Winter Meetings — where some big deals are made, like Albert Pujols’ two years ago — don’t begin until December 9 in Orlando.
— Expect the Yankees’ coaching staff to return in whole, although with contracts that expire today, they are still officially unsigned. Third base coach Rob Thomson could be an interesting managerial candidate for some of the current openings (he began his professional career in the Tigers organization). Hitting coach Kevin Long’s name has surfaced in rumors for some other teams, but it’s worth noting that Long’s son Jaron is a pitcher in the Yankees minor league system, and being close to his development is certainly a factor for Long.
— Whether you like the Red Sox or hate them, I hope you stayed up to watch the final out. Watching a team — any team — celebrate winning the World Series reminds me why they play and why we watch. The long journey has a payoff, it’s just not always for the ones you root for.
And now … don’t forget to turn your clocks back this weekend, and turn your calendars ahead. Because it will be another five months before we see a baseball game that counts.
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