O Captain, Not a CaptainBy now you’ve read the SI article on A-Rod and his struggles by Tom Verducci, probably one of the best pieces of sports insider reporting in the past five years. And if you haven’t, then you’ve heard the quotes on SportsCenter or on talk radio.
The story is unfortunately drowning out the fact the Yankees clinched the AL East last night with a Red Sox loss to Minnesota.
But as for the story, I have a simple question:
When did Jason Giambi become the most likeable guy on the Yankees?
Apparently he was the only Yankee who was willing to confront A-Rod during his slump. He got in Alex’s face and challenged him. He made it clear that the Yankees needed him, needed him to get the big hits. He talked to Torre about putting an end to the skipper’s “coddling” of Rodriguez—and suggested that A-Rod was the type of guy who would respond better to tough love. And the manner in which Giambi did all that is very impressive. It was never accusatory or confrontational, but obviously done for A-Rod’s own good. “We’re behind you 100%” was how he began his challenge. Exactly the words Alex needed to hear before hearing the rest.
(Giambi would know about struggling. After his “admission” about steroids a couple years ago, Giambi played so awful that the Yankees tried to send him down to the minors. Giambi can understand exactly what A-Rod is going through, in terms of the media scrutiny, fan contempt, and self-doubt.)
But A-Rod is officially out of his slump now. And if Alex goes on to play a major part in a Yankees World Series Championship, Yankees fans everywhere can thank Giambi for it.
It was a class move by Giambi. It was an action that a captain takes.
And yes, that’s a direct shot at you know who.
Everyone knows Jeter and A-Rod have a cold relationship, and everyone knows why (See Esquire 2001).
But Jeter has let A-Rod struggle without so much as lifting a finger to talk to Alex or the media to offer the Yankees’ slugger an ounce of encouragement. He has left A-Rod out to dry, and done so in a painfully obvious way.
Jeter’s Godfather-esque “You’re dead to me” attitude is the exact polar opposite of the proper attitude a captain should have. The Yankees organization is all about class, and Derek Jeter—at least off the field—has been a disappointment to his honorary position this season.
That’s not to say Jeter hasn’t carried the Yankees this year and is not deserving of the MVP award he’ll likely win. He is, 100%. No doubt.
But Giambi’s earlier 100% statement isn’t as effective because you can’t help but feel that Derek wants A-Rod to fail, and even enjoys it just a little. If I’ve gotten anything out of the Verducci article and the resulting backwash, it’s a new viewpoint on Jeter. Apparently Derek is very well known for holding grudges, to the point where a Yankees’ staffer said, with Jeter, “…once you’re gone, you’re gone.”
Obviously that is not the attitude a captain should have. A Captain puts Team before Self. Even if you can’t stand a guy, if his play is hurting the team, it’s your job to sit him down. It’s your job to shake him loose. To stick up for him. And even though A-Rod thinks that’s not Derek’s way, it is—he’s done it before, for Chuck Knoblauch and even (here’s the kicker) Jason Giambi.
Jeter has left A-Rod out to dry on purpose. Some role model. Definitely not a Captain.
The thing here is, with Derek, not saying anything is as condemning as actually condemning Alex. That’s how much respect and power Derek has within the organization and the clubhouse, and rightfully so for all he’s accomplished. With the expanded rosters, there are lots of young guys in the Yankees clubhouse right now, and they take their lead from Derek.
I would think Derek would know it takes more than a .340 batting average and nearly a .400 BA with RISP to be a Captain. Leading by example doesn't stop once you leave the field. It's a 24-hour a day job.
That being said, I still have immense respect for Derek as a player. But my personal opinion of him has taken quite a hit.
Derek needs to be less the Godfather, and more a Captain.
He is and will remain the heart and soul of the Yankees. But for this season, the clubhouse MVP is Jason Giambi, in my book.
And should A-Rod come up with the big hits this postseason, I'll be interested to see what Derek's reaction—if any—will be.