NEW YORK -- A night that came with preset billing (a duel between two of Japan’s best pitchers), that witnessed an offensive awakening (the Yankees homered as many times as in their previous 15 games) and that featured a dramatic win (via a walkoff homer) will instead be remembered far more for an executive’s expletive (a team official profanely quieting his highest-paid player).
Instead of lauding Ichiro Suzuki for his game-winning home run (the Yankees' fourth of the game) in the ninth or commemorating the 11th matchup of two Japanese-born starters (Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda, no less, both of whom rank in the AL’s top 10 in ERA), the New York tabloids almost certainly will be featuring something rather different on the backpage tomorrow.
Once again, Alex Rodriguez clumsily found a way to become the story -- and a colossal distraction -- thanks to a misguided tweet and an over-the-top response from general manager Brian Cashman. Rodriguez tweeted the following news Tuesday evening, referring to his surgeon, Dr. Bryan Kelly:
As far as the Yankees are concerned, Rodriguez has not been cleared to play after hip surgery -- manager Joe Girardi confirmed as much after the game -- and Cashman grew irate at the break in the chain of command. Cashman told ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, “You know what, when the Yankees want to announce something, [we will]. Alex should just shut the f--- up. That's it. I'm going to call Alex now.”
Rodriguez may be new to Twitter, but he surely is getting acquainted to Internet shorthand, given the STFU from his GM.
Athletes join social media to become accessible, to build a brand, to appear likable. Rodriguez, who received verification this week, has already seen his attempt backfire. (Not only is A-Rod following the wrong Manny Machado, but he also raised his own level of online absurdity with a cheery exclamation point and a bizarre Instagram photo of him speaking with Dr. Kelly, as if he anticipated the need for corroborative evidence for his clearance.)
Asked for his take after the game, Girardi said, “I don’t tweet and I don’t follow Twitter.”
That the topic of the manager’s social media habits arises in a postgame press conference -- and is germane to the news of the day -- speaks volumes of the continuing commotion caused by Rodriguez, who is due about $89 million for the 2014 through 2017 seasons.
The Yankees could use a third baseman with power, especially one who’s righthanded, but Rodriguez isn’t that player anymore, not when he’s a month from his 38th birthday, when he’s recovering from hip surgery and when his offensive production has declined for five straight seasons. He can definitely help improve New York's major league-worst .601 OPS from the its righthanded hitters, but he’s not such a superstar any more that he should be seen as a season savior upon his return.
A team executive, meanwhile, shouldn’t speak profanely in a public forum, but with the prevailing public perception being what it is, it wouldn't be surprising to see Rodriguez’s apparent insubordination get blamed more than Cashman’s explicit indignation.
This snafu may seem minor compared to previous problems, most notably his admission of steroid use and alleged link to the Biogenesis clinic, but the team doesn’t want its players contradicting it. (Cashman told several news outlets on Monday Rodriguez was not ready for rehab games.)
“There’s always a chain of command with injuries, and there has to be,” Girardi said. “That’s the process. It goes through our training staff, our doctors, our GM and then it probably gets to me.” Players aren’t given $275 million contracts with $30 million marketing agreements to not be seen or heard, but Rodriguez is no longer a star worth marketing. It’s time for him to slink out of the limelight as best he can and worry only about preparing to return to the majors. His image, at this point, can only be rehabbed with his play.