He’s not moving up anytime soon

The picture above makes it clear that Alex Rodriguez was in a lot of pain. Taking a big-league pitch–of any type–off of one’s hand can’t possibly be a pleasant experience. Seeing him writhing on the ground was hard to watch, on a human level.

But having said that, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for A-Rod or for Yankees fans. First of all, A-Rod has made too much money for anyone to truly feel sorry for him. Exhibit A, when it comes to sports stars and the truly obscene amounts of money they make, plays for the Yankees and wears number 13. Good for him if he can get it, perhaps, but not good for the game at large. That’s just my opinion, for whatever it might be worth.

And here’s another thing to hold against A-Rod: his contract calls for him to be paid a bonus for passing each one of the four remaining players ahead of him on baseball’s career home runs list. He’s sitting at 644 home runs now, meaning he needed to hit 17 more this season in order to pass Willie Mays, who’s at 660. That would have taken some doing, with just over two months of the regular season remaining, but I’d be surprised if he hadn’t at least thought about overtaking Mays this season. Wouldn’t you, if you were in his cleats? I know that I would have put that down on the 2012 to-do list, if I had 644 career homers to my credit.

So A-Rod will just have to get along without that extra bonus, at least until next season begins. He’ll probably be OK without it. But besides being in fifth place on the all-time homers list, he also has the distinction of being fifth on baseball’s career strikeouts list. His previous at-bat, before taking a pitch off his hand, resulted in the 2,000th strikeout of his major league career. It will also be a while before he can move up on that list.

Whenever a hitter steps to the plate, a home run is the best result he can hope for. It clears the bases, gives the crowd something to get excited about, and pads the batter’s  stats for the next round of contract negotiations. In a game where runs determine who wins the game, home runs always help.

But a strikeout is the polar opposite of a home run, since it burns an out, does not advance any runners, and has at least a fair chance of ending an inning or killing a rally. If A-Rod is one of the elite players–probably the elite player, by the time he’s done playing– for achieving the desired outcome of an at-bat, is it impolite to point out that he’s also one of the most prolific in history at the other end of that spectrum? Or is it just me, trying to rain on the Yankees’ parade?

Ah yes, the Yankees. The Evil Empire, as everyone thinks of them, including their own fans. They had just pulled off the biggest trade of the season, snatching one of the game’s marquee names, Ichiro (and who else needs just one name to identify him?). This was they type of a trade that even casual baseball fans had to take notice of.  Did anyone ever expect to see Ichiro in something other than a Mariners uniform? I sure didn’t.

I  saw Ichiro play a few times at Safeco Field in Seattle, and the place would come to a standstill whenever Ichiro stepped to the plate. The array of flashbulbs that went off when pitches were delivered to him is something that I can only compare to what happened when Michael Jordan shot free throws. And no, I’m not exaggerating that, because it was that big of a deal in Seattle.

So the Yankees brought Seattle’s megastar onto a team that already has Jeter and A-Rod and Teixeira and Granderson on board. And then, just like that, A-Rod goes down with a hand injury. Any talk of how the Yankees were the team to beat this year will now have to dialed back, and that  suits this non-Yankees fan just fine.

Time will heal A-Rod’s hand, and he’ll be back on the chase of Mays and all the others, eventually. But until then, we can’t know for certain what the Yankees would have been like at full strength. And that’s not a problem for 95% of baseball fans, myself included.

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