A-Rod back in the October crosshairs

Originally Published: October 6, 2009
By Tim Keown | Page 2

Alex RodriguezChris McGrath/Getty ImagesWhen it's time for the MLB playoffs, it's apparently time to deconstruct Alex Rodriguez.

It's baseball's postseason, which means it's time for ordinary Americans to ramp up their hatred of Alex Rodriguez to radical and utterly irrational proportions. It's time to take small samples of statistics and mold them into the most vile and disparaging arguments against a man's heart, soul and moral fiber. It's time to bash A-Rod as gutless, spineless, heartless and soulless.

And he took steroids.

Yes, it's October, when hatred of Rodriguez becomes an enterprise that is equal parts scientific, visceral and psychological.

I heard a guy on the radio Monday morning make the contention that A-Rod's presence on the Yankees is "bad karma" for the franchise. His voice rising, he said some guys have good karma, some guys have bad karma. They won't win a World Series while he's wearing pinstripes, the soothsayer said.

His partner's response? "That's a great point."

An admission: I've made some observations about Rodriguez that, in retrospect, strayed close to the mystical. I don't particularly care for the way he's conducted his business over the years, and there have been times when I have allowed those feelings to creep into my assessment of him as a ballplayer. I have always felt his self-consciousness hurts him when the games are biggest. Some people live in the moment, and some live outside it. He seems to live outside it.

But the idea that he is a carrier of bad juju, and that forces beyond baseball are conspiring against the Yankees or dictating how games will be played? Wow.

Not surprisingly, it is the scientific aspect of the argument that is the least persuasive.

It's understood that A-Rod has underperformed in the postseason during his time with the Yankees. Understood, and correct. But just for comparison's sake, let's put Rodriguez's postseason numbers up against the man who is considered the best and most clutch (clutchest?) postseason performer of the wild-card era.

Derek Jeter: postseason OPS of .845 in 495 at-bats.

Alex Rodriguez: postseason OPS of .856 in 147 at-bats.

But because A-Rod's career OPS is .956 over 16 years, there is reason to believe that more postseason at-bats will serve to bring his numbers closer to the norm. In addition, his combined 3-for-29 performance in '05 and '06 provides the bulk of this underperformance, although there were six walks.

Jeter's career OPS is .847, almost exactly the same as his postseason numbers, which suggests two things: (1) his postseason reputation as a "clutch" player is somewhat overblown, and; (2) given enough at-bats, an excellent regular-season player is likely to be an excellent postseason player.

This isn't meant to diminish Jeter, either as a regular-season or postseason performer. It's just meant to bring a little sanity to the discussion -- because insanity will erupt at the mere thought of A-Rod's first 0-for-4.

Sunday featured another ho-hum bit of nearly unparalleled excellence by Peyton Manning, spurring this observation: He is so methodical it obscures his greatness. Surgical and bloodless, his approach gives the impression of a guy who knows exactly how each play is going to go down before he even throws the ball. That could be why he never seems surprised, and why he never gets too excited, which in turn could be why he's admired as a great quarterback but not icon-ized the way Brett Favre is.

If Manning played with more of Favre's perceived little-boy enthusiasm -- or maybe showed what he's feeling on the inside more on the outside -- he'd be appreciated to a far greater degree. As it is, he's acknowledged for his ability, but the extent of it is easier to take for granted since he's not all up in your face about it.

And just in keeping with the day's theme, Favre Favre Favre Favre.

This Week's List

Big game, big stage, big kid: Rick Porcello, 20 years old.

Great moment in one-game playoff history: Matt Holliday's chin.

Nobody ever mentions how much easier it is to keep your motor running when you're operating in space: The two most annoying examples of announcer-speak are, "He can operate in space," and "His motor's always running."

They don't overprotect JaMarcus Russell like this, but it might be because he usually falls down before he can be hit: Ray Lewis was very upset at the officials' insistence on keeping Tom Brady's knees intact to set up the possible Brett Favre-Tom Brady Super Bowl.

Just a hunch, but here's what I think upset Lewis the most: The call was made after Brady openly pleaded with the official -- the call itself was legitimate.

Just for the heck of it: Gene Larkin.

I've got an idea that might fix the economy, save our schools and lower the fees at all of our public universities: We form vigilante groups to round up all those people who are bragging on television about not paying their taxes ("We saved $113,449") and get them to, you know, pay their taxes.

I'm starting to get the feeling that nothing -- not even the head coach's potential arrest for felony assault -- could dampen this man's belief in his ballclub: In his weekly press conference Monday -- something that's becoming an absolutely indispensable piece of television viewing -- Raiders head coach Tom Cable repeated his assertion that his team is "really close" and said he draws inspiration from the fact that teams in the past have started 1-3 and gone on to win the Super Bowl.

And finally, this is like someone saying your kid made a big improvement in his last test, because even though he got all the questions wrong, at least this time he wrote down answers: In this week's Bill Romanowski analysis moment, we bring you this erudite saying: "We saw JaMarcus Russell take a big step forward this week. He was throwing the ball to his receivers."

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Sound off to Tim here.

Tim Keown | email

ESPN Senior Writer