January 4, 2011
In 1981, after having successful division and championship series, Dave Winfield notoriously struggled in the World Series, notching only one hit in 22 at-bats. From that point forward in his tense tenure with the Yankees under the not-so-kind-and-gentle rule of George Steinbrenner, Winfield became known as someone not to be relied on in the clutch.
It reached new heights in late 1985 when after a particularly difficult offensive stretch for the superstar outfielder against the Toronto Blue Jays, who the Yankees were chasing for the division title; Steinbrenner slung his infamous and unfair sobriquet of "Mr. May" at Winfield. "Where is Reggie Jackson," the dictator fumed.
But the articulate, generous and multitalented native Minnesotan would get his sweet and beloved revenge when he had one of the finest late career renaissances in the history of the sport. In 1992, at the age of 41, Winfield played a vital role on the Blue Jays (who he had signed with after the 1991 season) hitting 26 homeruns and producing an extraordinary 108 RBI's. And full and complete glory finally came to the future Hall of Famer as he had one of the big hits that propelled the Blue Jays to their first - and Winfield's only - World Series title that year.
It remains one of the great redemption stories in baseball. And as discussed earlier this week, second chances are something every cursed athlete hopes for. (And speaking of Steinbrenner, he's another who received multiple chances, perhaps too many. But as John Huston famously uttered in Roman Polanski's Chinatown - "Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough." I think Steinbrenner, with his record as a convicted felon for illegal campaign contributions and for his paying a gambler to find damaging information on Winfield, would perhaps qualify in that category).
I couldn't help but think of Winfield after watching Alex Rodriguez flail helplessly at pitches out of the strike zone in his first two games against the Phillies in this year's Fall Classic. Now, granted, it's only been two games and he's liable to break out and tear up that hitters' paradise also known as Citizens Bank Park. And to be fair, A-Rod seemed to have exorcised all his post-2003 playoff demons by putting up otherworldly numbers in the series wins over Minnesota and Anaheim.
But if A-Rod continues to toil in futility at the plate - and in the field, as his misplay last night nearly cost the game - and the Yankees fail to reclaim the title, look for the heat to come down. Hard.
And it's not just the fact that A-Rod is hitless in eight at-bats. It's the manner in which he is recording those frequent outs. He has struck out six times and has looked lost while doing so - in other words, eerily similar to the way he appeared during the 2004-2007 playoffs. He is barely getting his bat on the ball for solid foul swings. Yankee followers would be correct in comparing his swings thus far to those of Alfonso Soriano in the 2003 World Series against the Florida Marlins.
If his troubles at the plate continue unabated in the next couple of games, A-Rod should try to enforce his will onto the game in alternate ways and not let his fragile psyche overwhelm him as it has in the past. If I were privy to counsel of the Yankee third baseman I'd urge him to find his way on base with a walk, steal a base and create opportunity. For if he continues to try to enforce his will with just his bat, I wouldn't be surprised if his striving yields little.
When at his best, as he was against the Twins and Angels, A-Rod is an unstoppable, nearly unconscious force. Hall of Fame pitcher and announcer Don Sutton once famously said of the late, great Willie Stargell that, "He doesn't just hit pitchers, he takes away their dignity." It's a quote that could definitely apply to Rodriguez when he's relaxed.
The Yankees are stocked with offensive firepower and they could win without A-Rod generating fireworks from the middle of the lineup. And with Mark Teixeira showing signs of finding his swing, perhaps the Yankees could afford to allow A-Rod to have a terrible series. But that's a gamble the Bronx Bombers do not want to have to make.