Now that we have survived the turgid melodrama of A-Rod’s weepy farewells, one assumes it is safe to return to the pennant race, or at least to what’s left of it.
Two things were made clear by the experience of the Yankee prodigal’s last sting in all of its painful contrivance. Americans do love a soap opera. And parting is not always sweet sorrow. But say this much for Alex Rodriguez: He was never boring. While we still had him to kick around, we were never at a loss for words.
Face it, dear Nation: You will never again derive more comfort from hooting on an adversary, although you might have spurned him with much greater eloquence if you’d simply expressed mere indifference. The proper tribute to A-Rod – the one he most richly deserved – would have been according him absolutely nothing, for nothing cuts deeper than being totally ignored. Especially if you live or die by the attention you get.
As the boos rained down upon him at Fenway Park one could only marvel at the sheer ugliness of the spectacle. Only, it wasn’t the faintly pathetic and clearly washed-up ballplayer dragging himself and his .198 batting average to the plate one last time that was so tacky; it was the sight of the surly mob jeering. For no matter how valid the complaint, that’s never pretty.
Whatever, it is over, and it should be remembered as one of the cornier soap operas to adorn the cheesy American sub-culture since the “The Romance of Helen Trent” departed the airwaves about six decades ago. Can A-Rod now go on to achieve fulfillment counseling young Yankee prospects on how to handle fame and balance fortune, as he now, however improbably, will be asked to do? Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a dang!
So we move on, with seven more weeks to go in a regular season that has been rather less than a thing of beauty thus far. In the American League, Texas looks good to some, but the heat usually gets them in the end. Sentimentalists pull mightily for Cleveland, where old friend Terry Francona tests the endurance of the Lebron effect, while in the East a dogfight of mediocrities shapes up, which means the pickings might be ripe in Boston no matter how erratic the home team pets might be. Consoling is the notion that in the end someone has to win the bloody thing. “Why not us?” Boston asks, as usual.
If there remains the strong chance, the week of the A-Rod fiasco was notably revealing of how fragile that premise might be. These Red Sox look like a classic “trick or treat” baseball team, capable of alternately awesome displays or total meltdowns, too often on consecutive evenings. In the week in question, they handed the under-manned and totally in flux Yankees two out of three, while almost gagging on the third. Motley and ragtag was the effort. Then in the next three against the little-worse Diamondbacks, they rock and roll, finishing with the humiliation of a $33 million a-year pitcher purported to be among the best in the business. Don’t look for rhyme or reason here.
If stuff like this plays colorfully during the regular season, it’s an abomination when the going gets tough in September, and unthinkable come October. Thus far, the total and unqualified access to John Henry’s checkbook accorded David Dombrowski to lighten his load has yielded tattered results.
Face it: Any GM can look terrific when his addled owner lets him spend $217 million on a single lefty. We used to scorn Brian Cashman on such grounds. In an ordinary year, these Red Sox – too often looking poorly managed and not ready for prime time – would be dismissed. Neither Baltimore nor Toronto is better, although the Orioles can prevail in the end mainly on the wit and guile of Buck Showalter. But any such conventional wisdom may not be worth much because this is no ordinary year.
For fleeting moments some dare fancy that the Yankees still have a shot, even after raising the flag of surrender by selling at the trade deadline and purging ancient contractual deadwood. High marks have been given the prospects they have amassed with their much-touted re-boot. But prospects who enjoy rave notices until they are obliged to prove their worth are a dime a dozen. Where teenage ballplayers are concerned, I’m from Missouri. Still the Yankees of Judge, Sanchez, and Austin begin to look more interesting than the Yankees of Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Beltran. We’ll see how long that lasts.
With September’s stretch run soon upon us, only two of the six divisions are being sharply contested: our own aforementioned AL East and the NL West, where those ancient adversaries, the Giants and Dodgers, are again at one another’s throats, separated by only a half game at this writing. Of the remaining four races, three seem runaways, the exception being the AL Central where the Tigers might still catch the Indians, alas.
A September without hot and heavy playoff races is bad news for baseball. Could be boring. We might end up wishing we still had A-Rod to kick around some more.