RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Another player who likely regained belief in himself, if he ever lost it, is Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. Until this year he struggled in the post-season. Now he goes into his first World Series after a stellar performance in the playoffs. Commentator Frank Deford says Alex Rodriguez is player who defies easy definitions.
FRANK DEFORD: Someone once asked Fred Zinnemann, the director, what a certain famous movie star was like. What makes you think, Zinnemann replied, that she's like anything?
In the same way, the more we learned about Alex Rodriguez, the more I've always asked myself: Is he like anything? Ever? Certainly there's never been anyone quite like him in sports - the best at his game, the world at his feet, but yet also incorporated within such majesty, insecurity, jealousy and untrustworthiness.
He could be so gauche, he could make you cringe. Remember the magazine photograph of A-Rod kissing himself in the mirror? Good grief, even Narcissus was content merely to stare at his own reflection. The worst of him was on display in this last springtime, which he himself refers to now as his rock bottom. A book grossly detailing his flaws and deceit was published - most prominently with the withering accusations of his employment of performance-enhancing drug injections.
Somehow that Rodriquez felt it necessary to juice up when he was already the lord of the realm at the peak of his game was all the more incriminating. His public mea culpa was strained and disingenuous, only adding to his unpopularity. But fortune comes in odd disguise. Shortly thereafter, Rodriquez found that he needed hip surgery and he was yanked off the stage. When he returned, it appeared that his ego had been operated on as well.
As he struggled to regain his physical gifts, the man who had always had to be the center of attention appeared not only vulnerable but satisfied to accept his role in an ensemble - even to defer to the young and articulate new Yankees star, Mark Teixeira. A-Rod stopped bloviating, especially about subjects that were beyond everything but his vanity. In the past, he would have grandly exploited his romance with a Hollywood actress. Now his canoodling with Kate Hudson was as veiled as these things can be in a paparazzi world. After a while, nobody even cared.
And perhaps more telling, it didn't seem that Rodriquez minded that nobody cared. And then, of course, October - A-Rod's month that had lived in infamy. Had any great player's name in any sport ever so mercilessly been paired with the word choke in a succession of off-seasons?
But in his third at-bat in this October's first post-season game, he drove in a run and drove away the boos, and he was off on a tear all the way to the World Series. By the end, Sunday night, when New York finished off the Angels, it was A-Rod who the Yankees surrounded. It was hard to believe he was the same person who started the season. He was a teammate.
Why, no one even talks about his drug-scarred record anymore. And now should A-Rod keep it up and lead the Yankees to the championship, what makes you think he's like anything?
MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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