By Jason Keidel
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We’ve heard it said the Yankees need stars as much as wins to remain the juggernaut of American sports.
Ratings and attendance are down. Yankees fans are looking as forlorn as Mets fans. Maybe you even joined the World Cup crowd to drown your local baseball sorrow.
Derek Jeter’s farewell tour, a wide open AL East, and a lack of local competition from the Mets can’t get eyes on the Yanks. Frankly, we expect the Mets to meet their morbid fate by Independence Day.
But the Yankees? The emblem of apple pie? We just discussed the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s debut, and 75 years since Lou Gehrig delivered the most famous speech in the history of American sports. All iconic, Yankee moments in a baseball city during the summer. Yet no one seems to care.
So, let’s just ask … do the Yankees miss Alex Rodriguez?
He’s not a role model for your kids, or even his own. His malfeasance is amply archived. He’s a cheat and a hypocrite, telling kids about the perils of PEDs while shooting equine cocktails deep into his tan tush. He’s not playing this season precisely because of his broken moral compass.
But do we miss him?
Clearly, we now make a distinction between whom we watch and whom we admire. Indeed, if we limited our entertainment dollar to those we liked personally, we’d rarely watch a movie, listen to music, or attend a sporting event. Sometimes rooting against someone can be as pleasurable as rooting for them. The Yankees want you to watch, and don’t necessarily care why.
But baseball held itself to a higher ideal — at least until the steroids era. Baseball brought us Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays and Derek Jeter. Baseball was not only a sport but also a trial balloon for progress.
No American game is more international. Sure, the Spurs just won the NBA title with mostly foreign-born players. But almost all basketball stars are American. The lack of black MLB players is disturbing, for sure. But more than a quarter of today’s game is Latin-American. And with Masahiro Tanaka surprisingly dominant, along with Yasiel Puig’s explosion on the sport, a lack of international flavor isn’t a problem.
So, do we miss A-Rod?
You can argue we miss the Core Four, especially with the heart pulled out. While no one disputes Jeter’s place as the face of the Yankees, Mariano Rivera held a special place in our souls. No matter how beloved the Captain may be, he’s got 81 home games, and you’re not going to attend every one just because you’ll miss him. And, perhaps the saddest part of all is the fact that Jeter just isn’t a great player anymore. Nostalgia only goes so far without production.
It’s not just a matter of wins, as last year’s team was competitive deep into summer and ratings still sagged. The Yanks lost Robinson Cano, who signed that swollen contract with Seattle. They clearly miss his bat and his cachet, even if they did the right thing by ducking another long contract to a 30-something who will be an anchor during the back-nine of the deal.
Thus, do we need A-Rod?
Winning isn’t enough, clearly, as you’ll recall clips of Yankee Stadium when Roger Maris hit his 61st homer in 1961, swaths of empty seats framing the moment. Those Yankees had Mantle, Maris and Ford, and still had a problem drawing long before the high-end, home-viewing experience made your living room a better nightly proposition than the ballpark.
And let’s be candid, the Yankees didn’t do the blue-collar stiff any favors by moving across the street and spiking prices beyond most normal budgets. All of it to help pay for A-Rod, who has fittingly played the hot corner since coming to the Bronx. We’re all kinda figuring out the new Yankees, and it feels odd without No. 13 in the equation, even if he earned his place in the game’s pokey.
Forgive the cliche, but Alex Rodriguez really had it all, the high salary and high cheekbones of celebrity, starring for baseball’s most revered franchise. The Yankees were the one place where he was not bigger than the team. But now he’s become a metaphor for the Yankees’ recent plight.
Let’s be candid, there’s not much winning, buzz, or building around the Yanks, the Core Four equivalent in their supposedly fertile farm system. And without any palpable sense of excitement, maybe there isn’t much of a future in Yankee Universe. At least not short-term, where the talent is thin and star-power is thinner.
Maybe the Yankees don’t miss A-Rod, but rather what he represents. A time when the future was fruitful, when the good times seemed eternal.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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