Explaining the Yankees, 'pop'-style

It's always interesting when the storyline doesn't quite fit the reality. From a review in The New York Times of three Yankee-centric books that were released this spring:

    What makes fans proud of the pinstripes is the Yankees' Jeterian side. Derek Jeter, with his four World Series rings and the respect of everyone in baseball for being a stand-up guy and playing the game the right way, is the latest in a long string of Bronx Bombers with dignity, character and class - recall Bernie Williams, Thurman Munson, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford and Lou Gehrig. These men are why New Yorkers feel the Yanks are the sporting extension of the ego of a city that sees itself filled with winners who are tough under pressure. The Rodriguez side is perhaps what the rest of the country thinks of us: larger than life, financially bloated and perpetually controversial. Alas, in recent years it seems the A-Rod side is dominating. The '09 Yanks are streaky, and though sometimes great, they spent most of the first half in second place in the American League East behind the still-hated Red Sox, who have beaten the Yanks all eight times they've played this year.

    Rodriguez, according to Roberts, is deep down still the abandoned little boy who was scarred by his father, Victor, who left the family when Alex was 10. "He had always been a sensitive boy; Victor's departure made him even more fragile emotionally. Neighbors recall seeing Alex's eyes brim with tears at the slightest criticism.” His father's absence became part of his identity, and his baseball success filled the void that had been created. But his self-esteem remains so fragile that he's afraid of failing, and he's so painfully self-aware that he's gripped by a performance anxiety that makes high-pressure moments nearly impossible. Which is why he usually fails in them. Yankee players tell Roberts he's "the vainest hitter they've ever known.”

    Torre takes that sentiment deeper in his book. "When it comes to a key situation, he can't get himself to concern himself with getting the job done, instead of how it looks,” he says. "Allow yourself to be embarrassed. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. And sometimes players aren't willing to do that. They have a reputation to uphold.” But through five years as a Yankee, Rodriguez is fashioning a reputation as someone who hits mammoth home runs in the early innings and dribblers to the shortstop with the game on the line.

Doesn't this seem like a strange time to note the Yankees' dysfunctionality? Considering they're now sitting in first place and look like a fantastic bet to return to the playoffs this fall? But of course that's just an editing issue. I'm sure the review was written a few weeks ago when the Yankees were still in second place, and it was easy to suggest a systemic problem. Now, though? Not so much.
That's a trifle. What's not a trifle is the endorsement of Selena Roberts' efforts at exploring the inner world of Alex Rodriguez. My personal opinion is that Roberts simply is not qualified to psychoanalyze Rodriguez. Not unless she's prepared to explain away all the little boys who have been abandoned and scarred and still somehow managed to excel in their chosen professions, and occasionally even succeed in high-pressure moments.

But while we're on that subject, Rodriguez' career batting line is .304/.389/.576.

Not for nothing, when games are close and late, he's batting .278/.378/.539 (and in those spots he's often faced tough relief pitchers). I just don't see anything there, or at least not anything that would justify consulting Freud's notebooks.

Ah, but of course there is October. In postseason games, Rodriguez has indeed struggled, relative to his regular-season performance: .279/.361/.483.

You might argue that 167 plate appearances isn't enough to prove -- or even suggest -- anything. I don't think I would argue much with you. But let's assume that those numbers mean something. Should we now scurry to expert witnesses to explain why Willie Mays hit just one home run in 99 postseason plate appearances? Have you seen Joe DiMaggio's postseason numbers? They're significantly worse than A-Rod's and DiMaggio finished with 220 World Series plate appearances. Has anyone resorted to pop psychology to explain DiMaggio's October struggles?

Maybe someone should. But it seems to me that the rules are different for Rodriguez. It might be natural, given the current state of sports coverage, but it sure isn't fair.