Believe it or not, there was a time when Alex Rodriguez wasn't very popular around these parts. It wasn't just because of his past usage of steroids either. He just never seemed to fit into the Yankees. Fans could sense that he was never comfortable in his own skin, and even though he put up great numbers some could never fully embrace him.
A-Rod was crucified for his postseason struggles and his perceived narcissism. Yankee fans could not get over the fact that he wasn't as team oriented or the leader Derek Jeter was, even though he agreed to move over to third without raising an eyebrow upon his arrival to the Yankees when he was a better shortstop than Jeter. He always seemed to stumble in his interviews and have things come out of his mouth that were not the way he intended.
Common sense would dictate that a year long performance-enhancing drug suspension would not help A-Rod's cause among his detractors. However, our society tends to love redemption stories and Yankees fans love winning. The Yankees would not be winning -- nor would they be interesting -- without A-Rod.
Just look at what the Yankees did without A-Rod in four games in NL parks without a DH. They scored 11 runs in four games while going 0-4, and six of the runs came in one game. Clearly, it's an extremely short sample size, but anybody who has watched the team this year knows they would be nowhere near first place without A-Rod. He's hitting .278/.384/.505/.989 with a .383 wOBA and a 147 wRC+ at age 39. It has been a remarkable showcase of just how amazingly talented he is.
The year off for Rodriguez may have been the best thing that could have happened to him both physically and emotionally. He was able to get a year of to rest his body and rework his swing. The rest and being a full-time designated hitter has kept Rodriguez healthy. Also, the year off truly made him realize what the game of baseball means to him. Rodriguez has always been a huge baseball lover, but being the away from the game for that long only made his appreciation go up.
Now that he is back on the field you can tell just how much more comfortable A-Rod is and how much he is enjoying the game. He is a true leader on the team and has not said one controversial thing to the media. His teammates swear by him and have been behind him all the way.
“He’s a humble player," Carlos Beltran said to the New York Post. "That’s what I see. I think he’s great, he cares about baseball and he wants to do well. He wants the team to win. He really cares, there’s no more you can ask for from a teammate.’’
Rodriguez has even made peace with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, as he was in attendance yesterday with Manfred for MLB's "Play Ball" initiative where he tossed wiffle balls and played catch with the kids. The city of Miami also showed its appreciation for A-Rod's charitable endeavors with its rousing ovation for him.
Amazingly, A-Rod's 3,000th hit will only be the third-most historic milestone he has reached this year after passing Willie Mays with 661 homers and knocking in his 2,000th RBI. It has been so much fun to watch this kind of history no matter how you perceive it with the PEDs. A-Rod's new attitude has been as big as part of this season as anything. This anecdote from Harold Reynolds is pretty telling.
“We had lunch during the winter,” Reynolds told John Harper of the New York Daily News. “It was the first time I saw Alex — not A-Rod — in probably 20 years. He didn’t come in with an entourage. He didn’t come riding in with a group of people in an Escalade. He just showed up. It was nice.”
A relaxed swing and a relaxed mind has made for a new A-Rod. Even the Yankees have bought in and you can tell by the team's Twitter account. In spring training, they would not even acknowledge him, and now they can't stop tweeting about him. A-Rod brought Yankee Stadium's most thunderous noise since the 2009 World Series last night after Sam Dyson walked him on four pitches. If he can keep up this pace it won't be the last time A-Rod gets that kind of rise out of the Bronx.