Mike Schmidt is the greatest third baseman in the history of Major League Baseball.
There are not many people who would debate this. So there is no better person to comment on the plight of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez than Michael Jack.
So, talk about him he did.
In an op-ed written for The Associated Press, Schmidt writes that A-Rod’s humungous, 10-year, $275 million contract signed in December of 2007 has cursed Rodriguez.
Alex Rodriguez was cursed. At the time he had no idea, none of us did. That contract changed him and baseball and has been a burden to many. A burden under which he has to play, fans have to watch and baseball has to exist. Alex Rodriguez’s career will never be appreciated.
Full disclosure… Mike Schmidt is my favorite all-time player. So I’m inclined to give the greatest Phillie who ever lived a little slack. And some of what Schmidt wrote is true. But some of it is pure bunk.
First, the statement above ignores the fact that, despite signing the cursed contract in December of 2007, A-Rod had the greatest postseason of his career in 2009 as the Yankees won the World Series.
In the playoffs that year, Rodriguez hit .365/.500/.808 for an OPS of 1.308 with 6 HRs and 18 RBIs. The contract was not a burden, and it did not carry a curse. At least not that year.
Second, A-Rod’s off-the-field issues are also to blame for the treatment he receives in the media and from the fans. His Q Rating started taking a dive when he was caught cheating on his wife with a stripper. He then admitted to taking steroids. During Game 1 of the ALCS, after being benched, he was seen hitting on two women during a playoff game.
His contract did not cause him to do any of those things.
He often says things that are aloof and flat-out ignorant. Schmidt recounted an example in his article.
…two personal stories. After his first couple years as a teenage major league shortstop in Seattle, I met him before a golf event in Fort Lauderdale. I had retired several years earlier, he was just beginning his career, and I sensed a great respect as he addressed me as Mr. Schmidt. It made me feel old, but at the same time, he impressed me with his approach.
Fast forward to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in 2008 when he was one homer away from my 548 on the all-time home run chart. We were standing at third base, I was a little uncomfortable not knowing what to say, so I tried to make conversation by mentioning the home run list. He asked me if I was planning on being there to see him match me. It was sort of an aloof response to my question — to ask if I was planning on following him till he tied me was a little presumptuous and a blow to my ego. It came off as the exact opposite of our first meeting. This was 500 home runs and $200 million later in life…
…The reason he is so polarizing lies right in this story. In him, we all see a guy who hit the sports lottery and we think, if it were us, life would be a bowl of cherries and it would be easy to be everything to everyone. If the tables were turned in that exchange at the All-Star game, I’d have said to him that I’d be honored if he were present when I tied and passed him, and I would send my jet to bring him there. Is that crazy?
Now, after reading that, it’s obvious that Schmidt has an ego as well as Rodriguez, so let’s consider that as we read what Michael Jack has to say.
But undoubtedly, Alex’s personality just rubs people the wrong way. And that doesn’t have anything to do with his contract.
Schmidt also seemed to indicate that signing a more “normal” contract would have made life better for him, and that Yankees manager Joe Girardi was wrong for benching him in the ALCS.
Imagine if he had never signed that contract, made a normal amount and never had a brush with performance-enhancing drugs. Imagine if there were no Internet, no Twitter or Facebook, only a couple newspapers and radio shows, and limited television exposure. Would he be today’s Mickey Mantle?
But that’s the reality, and because of it he has his $200 million and the pressure that comes with it. He signed on for this and now he faces challenges few if any ever have. I was never benched, never removed for a pinch hitter. The Phillies believed I was always one swing from changing a game and a series. Apparently, Joe Girardi didn’t feel the same about Alex Rodriguez.
So, just how much of a multi-million dollar contract should be considered “normal?” What number of years and dollars would have been acceptable? Is Schmidt seriously trying to say that A-Rod would have been better off had he not signed his huge mega-deal with the Yankees? And does that mean Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder were wrong for signing their deals?
However, there are a couple points Schmidt made that make a lot of sense. The first are his thoughts on the postseason…
The postseason can be cruel, especially cruel to those hitters who are expected to produce and lead their teams. In baseball, players are supposed to be judged over an extended period, not a two-week postseason. Hitting comes and goes and never says goodbye. This time of year, the big, high-paid boys are supposed to hit, but most don’t.
Schmidt is right. It’s too small a sample size.
However, A-Rod’s 2012 regular season was also far below what a player earning his salary should be producing. So this all goes beyond the last two weeks.
The second were his comments about the end of his own career, and the coming twilight of Rodriguez’.
And as this happened, I began to doubt my ability. I had an excuse: I was old, so I retired. It happens to all of us. But in Alex’s case when it does — if it isn’t happening now — it won’t be that easy. He will be making $30 million a year, guaranteed! For that kind of money, you aren’t allowed to get old.
Aside from the fact that A-Rod isn’t making $30 million a year at any point during the last five years of his contract, Schmidt’s larger point is true. When a player signs a contract as big as Alex’s, one in which he is due $28 million at age 37, $25 million at 38, $21 million at 39, and $20 million at 40 and 41 years old, he is expected to produce, despite the limitations of age.
A-Rod, because he is paid so much money, is expected to perform like he is still in his prime. And though those expectations are completely out of whack, that is the reality.
In the end, Rodriguez’ contract is not a curse. Sure, it’s a factor. But it’s the whole A-Rod experience that generates so much criticism.
And soon, it could be someone else’s problem.