Alex Rodriguez is Major League Baseball's last megastar, and that's OK

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

All the way to the bitter end, and it is bitter, the fans want A-Rod.

On Tuesday night, with Alex Rodriguez bizarrely left out of the lineup by the Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, Boston Red Sox fans chanted his name at Fenway Park, letting Bombers brass know they made a mistake by sitting the slugger who is (for now) set to retire after one more big night in the Bronx, this coming Friday against Tampa Bay.

Can you blame the Yankees for sticking it to their man, even if he was, at least seemingly, provided with a graceful exit plan on Sunday? After all, we’re talking about player who tried to torch his employers, the league he played in and the union who helped guarantee most of his 10-year, $275m deal during a scorched-earth defense of his role in the Biogenesis PED scandal.

Except this shouldn’t be about the Yankees settling scores, this is about pure entertainment. And with the clock running down on one of the most significant sporting careers this country has ever known, limiting the owner of 696 of the most controversial home runs in history to pinch-hit duty is the direct opposite of giving fans what they want.

Yes, they still want A-Rod, a player who can’t hit like he used to, but can still light up talk radio switchboards for hours, rattle social media and fill countless pages with pixel after pixel. In an era where content is in demand like never before, A-Rod has been just that: walking, living, breathing, never-ending content. At the next Baseball Writers’ Association dinner, they should give A-Rod an award for enriching their lives with some of the most colorful, controversial and polarizing stories they’ll ever scribble. He deserves it, because another A-Rod isn’t going to walk into the sport anytime soon.

A-Rod is arguably, along with his ex-team-mate, Derek Jeter, the most recognizable name in modern baseball times, and not just to sports fans, to everybody. A-Rod has transcended the game in a way almost all ballplayers don’t. In retirement, his place in mainstream gossip columns will continue, especially if he sticks with billionaire CEO and co-founder of 23andMe Anne Wojcicki, who was once married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin: know any other baseball players who have landed in Vanity Fair lately?

The NFL has their Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and until last season, Peyton Manning, while the NBA has their LeBron James and a host of strong second-tier stars. After A-Rod, baseball has nobody on or near that level of national, crossover stardom.

Think about all the game-changing talent that is around the league today: Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Jose Altuve, Kris Bryant: the list of standouts goes on for a very long time, but there’s no one that moves the needle like A-Rod, who is known by 50% of all Americans six years or older according to Q-Scores. Bryce Harper, who did make a late-night appearance with Jimmy Fallon in May, and is by far the least vanilla young ballplayer around, is the next highest at 20% awareness.

Every circuit wants to market its stars, who are the one of the main reasons the Big Four leagues are the behemoths they are today. But in today’s sports world, MLB operates well despite the fact that their players have lower national awareness than those from other major North American sports leagues.

The league may wish their national ratings for all-star games and the post-season were rising rather than falling, but in MLB today, all of that matters much less overall. Their digital service, 33% of which was just picked up by Disney, is valued at a staggering $3.5bn, while local television and radio perform well. Their biggest issue is finding a way to maintain the status quo when it comes to the billions of dollars in local revenues earned via cable bundling, where many fans who don’t watch an inning of baseball have been subsidizing huge rights deals for years and years.

So really, the model of pushing stars to drive national awareness across Major League Baseball has more or less been on life support for many years, meaning that the days of grandiose ad campaigns, as rare as they’ve been, probably went out with Jeter.

As for Rodriguez, well, based on ticket sales for Friday’s game, which is being broadcast nationally on Fox, he’s certain to go out with a bang, whether he swings and misses or hits yet another A-bomb. As always, A-Rod will make an impact, simply by showing up.

Video of the week

ICYMI: Manny Machado: three at bats, three home runs in three innings, single handedly wrecking the White Sox on a Sunday afternoon. That’s one heck of a third of a game for the Orioles slugger who is breaking out from his breakout seasons.
Is he your MVP? He certainly deserves to be in the American League conversation.

Manny from Mercury.

Quote of the Week

Take your stupid baseball team and get out.

Documents obtained by say that’s what Maricopa County supervisor Andy Kunasek said to Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall during an April tirade. The county, which includes the city of Phoenix, has denied the D-Backs $65m in ballpark renovations in an ongoing dispute that could threaten Arizona’s long-term future at Chase Field. Kunasek also told Hall to “go back to fucking West Virginia”.

Who’s closer to victory: Donald Trump or the Cubs?

Well, you would like to think that in a week that Le Grande Orange alluded to a possible assassination threat to a would-be presidential-elect, that the Trumpster would be farther away from victory than ever before. However, we also know that Trump bounces back easier than one of those 25¢ rubber balls your kid makes you buy outside the pizza shop: the Dems should limit any embarrassing high-fives.

The Cubs? Well, whatever was eating at them in July, when they were, somewhat amazingly, just 12-16, is done and dusted. Chicago raced out to a 8-0 mark this month, and their July to August ERA dropped from 4.47 to 1.29, while their OPS popped by over 60 points during the same span. That makes the Cubbies easy winners this week.

How did the kids piss off Goose Gossage this week?

The St Louis Cardinals, down 4-0 on Monday night to the Cincinnati Reds, on the verge of a three-game losing streak, got yet another gift from God. After rallying from a 4-0 ninth inning deficit, Yadier Molina stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and brought the winning home run by any means necessary.

Yadier does it again.

There’s only one thing worse than a bases-loaded walk to end a ballgame – a bases loaded hit by pitch. Molina didn’t exactly run away from Ross Ohlendorf’s offering, and so Goose may be thinking that is one bush league way to win. Then again, he’s probably thinking what we most of us think when the Cardinals somehow find a way to rise from the dead, and that’s not printable here.

Nine thoughts in order

1) Prince Fielder is retiring from baseball after a second neck surgery forced the Rangers DH to call it quits. Aside from the sad news that one of the game’s most prodigious sluggers is retiring, it now confirms that then Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski made one heck of a deal when he shipped Fielder to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler. By the time Fielder’s deal runs out, he will have been paid $138m for 34 home runs and a .760 OPS over 289 games. The Tigers will have paid $62m for Kinsler up until 2018, which includes a $5m buyout of the final year of his deal, but doesn’t count the $30m they kicked over to Texas to help pay Fielder’s deal. So for $92m total, Detroit have received an .794 OPS, in over 400 games and counting, with the second baseman currently enjoying his best season since 2008. There’s some relief for Texas however - it’s reported that some $36m of the remaining deal will be covered by insurance. Fielder retires with the same number of home runs as his father Cecil: 319.

2) Toronto Blue Jays starting center fielder Kevin Pillar is out with for at least two weeks with sprained thumb ligaments, and considering the way he routinely bounces around the Rogers Centre outfield walls and dives into its turf, it’s a real wonder how he wasn’t injured sooner. Luckily, GM Ross Atkins, who is quietly patting his own back this week, has an everyday center fielder in Melvin Upton to replace him. Upton is enjoying something of a comeback season, but has been slow to get going in T Dot – now he’ll get his chance to play every day and make that deal look even better.

3) Tim Tebow is going to try and play baseball, allegedly, and as usual, the media are tripping over themselves to cover whatever he does. Personally, I thought he deserved more of a chance in the NFL after guiding the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011, something a whopping 10,000 Denver fans agree with after signing a petition for his return. Baseball? Well, I was tempted to write that it’s never, ever, EVER going to happen. Then I saw this tweet from Gary Sheffield:

If you read Sheffield’s recent piece in the Players’ Tribune, you’d have to think twice about Tebow – he demands that you do! So, as per Sheff’s orders, I’m keeping an open mind, for now.

4) On Tuesday some 15,000 Red Sox fans learned they’d be denied a David Ortiz bobblehead doll, just hours before their game with the Yankees.

“I thought the bobbleheads were an inaccurate portrayal of David,” said Sam Kennedy said. “To go further, I thought the facial features were racially insensitive.” Sox brass later announced that fans in attendance would actually be eligible to receive a more politically correct doll with a significantly thicker neck once a new figurine is made.

5) Here’s an admission: my fascination with Ichiro was such that I used to write emails about him to friends before every spring. Mostly they rambled on about certain stats – on how he missed just 33 games over his first 11 seasons in Seattle, or that he would have almost definitely been MLB’s all-time hit king had his career started off in North America.

The first Japanese player to play the field, Ichiro is without question one of the most intriguing players in the long history of the game, and his 3,000th hit is just the latest statistical wonder surrounding his game. Ironically, after all these years of racking up hit after hit, my fondest Ichiro memory remains his throwing out of Terrance Long in 2001.

Incredible Ichiro.

6) Last month Pete Rose sued John Dowd for a statutory rape allegation the criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor made last year. During a 13 July 2015 radio appearance, Dowd, who lead the 1989 investigation into Rose’s gambling, referenced Rose’s ex-associate, Michael Bertolini, who allegedly told him that “he ran young girls for him down in spring training, ages 12 to 14”. Rose said there was no truth to the statements, which took place before the MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, elected to not take him off the sport’s ineligible list in December. Now Dowd is trying to have the case dismissed, a move Rose’s attorney, Martin Garbus calls a stall tactic. Like anything involving Rose, this latest saga is unlikely to end anytime soon.

7) Yasiel Puig’s reputation in Dodgerland continues to spiral. This time the recently demoted Puig was seen drinking beer in a party bus with a bunch of young Triple-A Oklahoma players, some of which were under the legal drinking age, having as much fun as possible inside a vehicle parked in Iowa. Unfortunately for Puig, who is just 25, these completely normal acts, which included singing, profanity and inside jokes, he posted videos of the partying on social media and so now it’s a full-blown controversy. Management said they’d handle it internally, while Puig merchandise was removed from Dodger Stadium stores. A word of advice to Yasiel: the nail that sticks up will be hammered down.

8) Terry Collins is under more pressure than ever after a shaky week featuring what were, more or less, indefensible decisions. On Saturday, down a run in the ninth and two outs, he didn’t pinch-run for the plodding Jay Bruce, who was then thrown out at home to end the game.

“Jay Bruce might be faster than anybody on our team for all I know,” said Collins. “I know he is a good base runner.”

Bruce is new to the team, but in the age of information, there is no excuse for Collins: he has to know his players.

Making matters worse, Collins didn’t challenge the call at the plate.

Mets fans have been critical of several of Collins’ moves this season, never mind the fact that he manages a would-be play-off team that hasn’t won consecutive games since 7 July. However, few managers have had to deal with the injury issues he’s faced over two seasons, and after taking New York to the World Series last season, he’s probably safe for the rest of the season.

9) And finally, Clayton Kershaw is still finding ways to contribute in LA, despite being sidelined with back issues until at least 27 August. On Sunday, he led a dugout prank on Alex Wood.

A full video of Clayton’s stacking seeds on to the back of Wood, narrated to perfection by Vin Scully, can be found here. Rather incredibly, the Dodgers have gone 23-14 without their ace in the rotation, pulling even even with their NL West rivals, the San Francisco Giants, if only for a day. The Dodgers bullpen has played a large role in that success – they have the lowest batting average against in innings seven through nine in baseball history according to SI – a remarkable turnaround considering the fits LA’s relief core caused their fan base over ensuing seasons.

Powered by article was written by David Lengel, for on Thursday 11th August 2016 12.00 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010