By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Despite all the steroids and the lying and the endless circus of his playing days, Alex Rodriguez has always had a brilliant baseball mind.
It came out for all to see during Fox’s playoff coverage last season, when he began a new career as an analyst. It has always been apparent to the reporters who have received thoughtful, logical answers whenever A-Rod has decided to talk about matters other than himself.
And the Yankees’ brass obviously recognizes it. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have asked the man who gave them almost as many ulcers as he did homers during his playing career to help grow the new fruit crop currently taking root in Tampa.
As mad as the Yankees suits were at Rodriguez as he sat out his 2014 PED suspension, and as eager as they were last August to get that $21 million of salary, give or take a sheckel or two, off the books, they still respected their former third baseman enough to invite him to training camp as a special instructor. He took the field for the first of three days Tuesday, and he’ll return for another three days in March.
That may sound more ceremonial than professorial, but here’s the thing: the Yanks want him influencing their young players. They want him reinforcing what the full-time coaches tell them, as long as his advice doesn’t include sticking needles in their posteriors.
And that’s exactly what A-Rod should be doing. For all his faults, he has a jam-packed brain.
Knowledge like that should never go to waste.
In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the Yanks eventually hired Rodriguez as a full-time coach.
That would be up to him, of course. He’d have to decide that the allure of being back with the boys overshadows the allure of a cushy TV career and the opportunity to spend oodles of quality time with his daughters.
Managing is out, he told the media Tuesday. That’s understandable, given the pressures and insecurity all managers face. But coaching is different. They don’t take the heat. For the most part, they answer the occasional question and busy themselves with their specific roles. It would be an ideal way for a guy to pay back a sport he so loved and yet so disrespected.
Other cheaters are doing it, with varying degrees of success. Barry Bonds served as hitting coach of the Marlins last year. But he, apparently, couldn’t help being Barry and was fired.
Mark McGwire, an admitted user, returned to baseball first as a hitting coach for the Cardinals for three years before moving on to the Dodgers. He heads into his second season as bench coach for the Padres.
If McGwire can do it, Rodriguez should be a natural.
He’s that smart.
Maybe not in his view of clean competition. But hitting and playing the game?
That’s for the future, though.
For now, he’s a guest instructor with the potential to become as popular as another longtime guest, the late Yogi Berra.
Young catchers like Jorge Posada revered Berra like, well, a Yogi, during his final, part-time years in uniform. He talked hitting, technique, and strategy while throwing in a yarn or two about the good old days.
Imagine if somewhere down the line an Aaron Judge credits something Rodriguez said in just the right words, just the right tone, that enabled him to double his home run potential and cut his strikeouts in half. Imagine him tutoring star farmhand Gleyber Torres into a top-shelf shortstop in a year or two.
Steroids are no longer a worry now that A-Rod has retired.
All that’s left is a head packed with knowledge.
The Yanks are using it wisely.
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino