Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

In Praise of Baseball Star Alex Rodriguez

Commentator Frank Deford wonders why New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is subject to so much criticism. He says that A-Rod seems to be held to higher standards than other top-notch ballplayers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Commentator Frank DeFord has been thinking about another major league star, this one in baseball.

FRANK DEFORD reporting:

I was listening to the results of the world classic of baseball last month when the United States got eliminated and the announcer reported it thusly: that once again, a team with Alex Rodriguez on it had failed. It was the most incredibly gratuitous assessment I could imagine.

Now, to be sure, Rodriguez had not sparkled in the classic, but he had plenty of American company. No, he was just the most recent example in this curious upside down situation, wherein the best player in baseball is regularly assailed by the media, fans, and players.

It's gotten so ridiculous that, momentarily, I expect Commissioner Bud Selig to order a special investigation into Alex Rodriguez, with the idea in mind of putting asterisks next to all his statistics. Yes, guilty as charged for being Alex Roderiguez.

The phenomenon of dislike for the finest in sport is rare, if not altogether original. Ted Williams was held in great disdain, vilified as selfish by his own home team newspapers even as he was hitting .400. Wilt Chamberlain was simply so big and so good that, as he groaned himself: Nobody roots for Goliath.

But it's hard to understand why Rodriguez has become such a whipping boy, even as he gracefully displays preeminent skills year after year. Well, let us examine the bill of particulars.

First, of course, the man simply makes too much money. A $26 million salary. A-rod is Pay-rod, hoot the critics. But for goodness sakes, was he supposed to turn down a quarter billion dollar, 10-year contract just because some fool owner was dumb enough to offer it?

And look, sneer his detractors, sure he's great, but he's a loser. Take A-rod off a team, that team improves. His new team doesn't win. Specifically, the Yankees haven't won the World Series in the two seasons he's been there. Of course, they hadn't won the three seasons previously either.

If he's not a good teammate, then why did he graciously give up his position-shortstop--to switch to third base, where he's now regarded as the best in the business?

He played all 162 games last year. He's amazingly consistent in power and average. And, after all, he was again voted Most Valuable Player last year.

To be sure, he had a couple bad post-season series. And in one of those against Boston in 2004, he churlishly knocked the ball out of an opponent's grasp. It was one play, unwise and unbecoming--but to hear tell, it would seem to define his whole career. Imagine if opera fans overlook all Placido Domingo had sung because of that one sour note he hit back in '92 at La Scala.

And finally, A-rod has his foil--Derek Jeter, the sainted Yankee shortstop. It ain't easy playin' long-side the George Clooney of sport. Poor A-rod. No he doesn't have Jeter's charm, but he appears to be a good husband and father of moderate demeanor. Well, my goodness, gracious, he actually does like to play poker for money--but no one has ever whispered that he's taken steroids--and he is what he is: the best baseball player in the world.

Can't we give the kid a break? I say let's start the season with three cheers for Alex Rodriguez.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank DeFord, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. His latest book, The Old Ballgame, is now out in paperback. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford