You didn’t have to be a Yankee fan to notice the abuse third basemen Alex Rodriguez endured last summer. For months, it was a national story – one baseball fans couldn’t get enough of, and the media couldn’t cover enough. A-Rod was polarizing. Fans either defended his every step or condemned his every misstep. He was an overpaid bum. No, he was getting a bad rap.

Rodriguez heard discontent from many a New Yorker, despite posting a .290/.392/.523 line and hitting 35 home runs with 121 RBIs in the 2006 season. The reason? His apparent inability to hit in the clutch. Too many times, it seemed, he struck out in a big spot. Sure, A-Rod got his fair share of hits and RBIs, but they would always seem to come when his team needed them the least.

The result of this perception quickly deteriorated into chaos. The hearty booing caused more bad play by Rodriguez, which brought even more booing, until he couldn’t make an out without hearing New York’s wrath.

And the media threw more fuel on the fire in their endless coverage and analysis. ESPN experts like Steve Phillips began advocating that Rodriguez be traded as soon as possible. A-Rod had given it a shot in New York, Phillips said, and it hadn’t worked out. The fans didn’t want him, and he needed to go. Trade him.

But Phillips and others were forgetting important facts – facts that nobody would argue against but people chose to forget.

Alex Rodriguez was the reigning AL MVP in New York.

Alex Rodriguez is one of the best players in baseball.

Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest players of all time.

Tunnel-vision was in full effect, however, and the horrid pitching and offensive performances from the rest of the team didn’t matter as the Yankees lost in the playoffs – the team’s loss was pinned on A-Rod. And even with GM Brian Cashman’s statements to the contrary, rumors flourished that Rodriguez would be traded in the off-season. Despite his MVP there, he didn’t fit in New York.

But that this was even considered, by fans, the media or perhaps Yankee management is a testament to the blasphemy that went on in 2006. That Rodriguez was pinned as the poster boy for the Yankees’ failure and that fans were either hoping or expecting a player of his caliber to be traded speaks to the monumental ignorance that can pervade baseball fandom. Should the Red Sox have traded Ted Williams after his dismal performance in the 1946 World Series, the only one he ever even reached?

No. But the Rodriguez witch-hunt, which defined baseball for a good part of last year, was fueled by a newly vengeful animal in the sports media. On both the local and national level the media played the role of the instigator in molding the A-Rod saga out of some booing fans into trade rumors. Whether it was spinning stories or cherry-picking and misrepresenting quotes, on a daily basis the papers were guaranteed to have some negative A-Rod news, and ESPN would have some new analysis on why the third basemen’s career in New York was over. But fans loved seeing it. They loved reveling in A-Rod’s misery, watching him kicked while he was down, so can you blame the media?

Sure you can – especially since they recently overstepped their bounds and invited even more backlash. After an open and candid radio interview last month, Rodriguez expressed his desire to stay in New York, saying, “One hundred percent, my wife and I, my daughter, we want to stay in New York.”

Pretty straightforward. Yet the spin continued, and his comments were inexplicably construed as paving the way for a premature exit after this season. The hoopla erupted again and you had to wonder, “Geez, what’s this guy have to do to catch a break?”

Well, now he’s showing us. Rodriguez is off to one of the best offensive starts in baseball history, and has even come through in indisputably clutch situations. There isn’t a whisper of booing or negative press towards him. All seems right in New York.

But take note, because if and when A-Rod does slump this season, or make an out in a clutch situation, rest assured, this will all be forgotten. He will be labeled a choker, be criticized as being overpaid, and ESPN will start up the trade rumors. It’s happened before and will happen again. It’s too bad for A-Rod.

Fountaine is a member of the class of 2008.



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Please watch ‘Bigtop Burger.’ I am begging you.

If you aren’t watching Bigtop Burger, you should be. There is, quite frankly, no excuse not to watch it.

Life is pay to win. College? The giant paywall

For a game that preaches freedom of choice, there are an awful lot of decisions essentially made for us. Exhibit A: the decision to play at all.