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A-Rod Gets Slappy

October 19, 2004

Lou Gehrig


Until he wins a World Series, this image will unfortunately remain A-Rod's most famous one in the Yankees uniform.

Alex Rodriguez may have won two MVPs in his four seasons as a Yankee. He was also the youngest player to reach 500 homers. But, unfortunately for him, the most memorable play A-Rod has had so far in pinstripes was one infamous one against the Boston Red Sox.

Rodriguez, of course, was supposed to be a Red Sox in 2004. Most of the hot stove talk that previous winter surrounded the rumors of Boston trading Rodriguez to the Texas Rangers for Manny Ramirez. One Red Sox blogger even joked that when he heard Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, announce “We got him” about capturing Saddam Hussein, he thought Bremer was referring to picking up A-Rod.

But thanks to the players’ union refusing to approve Rodriguez cutting salary in the deal, A-Rod becoming a Red Sox would remain one of those what-if moments in baseball history, like how the course of history for the Yankees and Red Sox would have changed if the rumored 1947 trade of Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams had ever happened.

When Yankee third baseman, and ALCS hero, Aaron Boone injured his knee playing pickup basketball in January 2004, Yankee GM Brian Cashman wondered if Rodriguez, the greatest shortstop of his generation, would be interested in switching positions to play for the Bombers. So Cashman approached A-Rod at MLB’s awards dinner that year to feel him out.  And by Valentine’s Day, the Yankees and Rangers had agreed in principle to trade Alfonso Soriano for Rodriguez.

Rodriguez may not have had an A-Rod-like season in his first year as a Yankee, but he put up respectable numbers, hitting .286, with 36 homers and 106 RBI. The only controversial note in the regular season was his fight with Jason Varitek, after pitcher Bronson Arroyo plunked A-Rod. Red Sox fans credited that with turning their season around, even though Boston played .500 ball for the first two weeks after the July 24 brawl.

But A-Rod was aware that the postseason was what was going to cement his legacy in the Bronx. And he was on his way to October glory. He very nearly single-handedly led the Yankees to victory over the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, and he was bashing Red Sox pitching with 2 homers and a .368 average over for the first four games of the ALCS. If Mariano Rivera and the Yanks had been able to hold on and win Game 4, Alex’s October reputation would have been a very different one than the one that exists today.

Unfortunately for A-Rod, he, and the rest of the team, stopped hitting. And the Yankee bullpen was unable to hold the lead in Game 5, either. So the Bombers were desperate to get something going in Game 6. Manager Joe Torre refused to let his team bunt against the Red Sox's Curt Schilling, who was suffering an ankle injury. So the pitcher, who sported that famous bloody sock, was able to shut down the Yankee bats for seven innings.

But Schilling gave way to A-Rod’s nemesis Bronson (or, as Alex called him, “Brandon”) Arroyo in the eighth inning, and the Yanks were starting to rally. The score was 4-2, with Derek Jeter on first, when Alex Rodriguez came up to the plate. He hit the ball weakly to first. It should have been an easy out for Arroyo, who fielded the ball, but A-Rod prevented him from tagging him out by trying to slap the ball out of the pitcher’s glove. Jeter scored on the play, and the crowd roared with pleasure.

But then the umpires ruled A-Rod out for interference, and Jeter ended up back at first. The momentum was lost, and the Yankees never threatened in the series again. The crowd at Yankee Stadium was so angry at the call being changed that they threw garbage on the field to protest the decision.

Later that evening, Rodriguez said, "They said I should have ran him over, kind of like a catcher, that I can't go out of my way to knock the ball out of his hand. I was perplexed by the whole situation." A-Rod went on to say, "I don't know what I tried do. I knew he was coming, and I know that the line belongs to me. Looking back, maybe I should have run him over."

If he had run him over, would he have been better off? Probably. And would the slap have been considered a “smart play,” as A-Rod later called it, if it had been done by somebody else? Undoubtedly, much like 2007 Alex’s “Ha Play” against the Blue Jays would be called smart baseball if it had been done by anybody else. But that’s the way it is for the highest-paid player in the game.

Indeed, Red Sox fans had a field day commemorating the moment with doctored images of the slap. The most infamous picture showed Alex wearing a black purse on his arm as he slapped at the ball. And until Rodriguez wins a World Series as a Yankee, that photo will unfortunately be the most enduring image of him in pinstripes.