FIRE JOE MORGAN: Tim Keown, Head Case


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Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Tim Keown, Head Case

Why can't people accept that good players, even great players, can have lousy postseason series? It happens! In a five game divisional series, a hitter gets 20-25 plate appearances. It's tough to judge anybody's ability in that small a sample size, much less their character.

It's certainly not enough to call someone a head case, an underachiever, lazy, self-conscious, tight, or a choker. Tim Keown comes close to applying all of these words to Alex Rodriguez in this column.

Tim Keown, let's see what your evidence is.

The only thing harder to figure than Joe West's strike zone in the deciding game of the AL Division Series between the Yankees and Angels on Monday night was Alex Rodriguez.

Fine. Explain yourself.

The curious case of the world's most talented head case continued through another shortened postseason for the Yankees. While 22-year-old Ervin Santana was creating a little slice of legend by burying 94-mph fastballs under the hands of some of baseball's best hitters, A-Rod was carving out a chapter of zero-RBI underachievement.

Oh boy. Okay, so you're coming out firing. A-Rod is "the world's most talented head case"? Your first reason: he had zero RBI. You classify this as an "underachievement." Perhaps. Let's take a look at the achievements of one Mr. Reginald Martinez Jackson, a man many consider to be the greatest postseason performer of all time.

1973 ALCS, 5 games: 0 RBI
1974 ALCS, 4 games: 1 RBI
1974 WS, 5 games: 1 RBI
1977 ALCS, 5 games: 1 RBI
1980 ALCS, 3 games: 0 RBI

Am I cherry-picking Reggie's worst RBI playoff series? Yes, that is exactly what I'm doing. But Tim Keown is cherry-picking the worst playoff series in A-Rod's career to nail him to the cross. In his last three series, Rodriguez has totalled 5, 3, and 5 RBI. That underachiever.

Up until Sunday afternoon, there wasn't much to recommend any of this year's divisional series.

You're going to write that two days after what people were calling the greatest baseball game ever played happened in the divisional series? After a six-hour, 18-inning epic where the greatest pitcher of our generation comes in to pitch three scoreless innings of relief to earn the win? After a game with two grand slams and something like four hundred players used?

Head case.

At least this year the divisional series got a sliver of salvation with Sunday's 18-inning epic in Houston and Monday night's game in Anaheim.

That's like saying "Idi Amin wasn't much of an evil dictator. Well, except for the constant murderous rampages of his death squads."

And if the best thing for baseball -- according to the wisdom of the television networks, anyway -- is a Yankees win, the next best thing is a Yankees loss. Any Yankees loss is viewed publicly as their failure first, somebody else's success second. And once again, nobody's failure will be scrutinized more than A-Rod's.

I don't disagree with most of that. Notice how Keown implies that the scrutiny directed at A-Rod is inevitable, like it's the tide coming in. Who's scrutinizing him? Tim Keown.

The Yankees had a chance in the top of the ninth, down two against Frankie Rodriguez. Derek Jeter -- the anti-A-Rod -- led off with a fierce single to left, and up came A-Rod as the tying run.



A-Rod, Career Playoff OBP/SLG, 1995-2004 (103 AB): .395 / .583
Derek Jeter (Anti A-Rod), Career Playoff OBP/SLG, 1996-2004 (441 AB): .380 / .456

It turns out when you don't just look at 20 AB, A-Rod is a better player. Even in the cauldron of the playoffs.

And as he strolled to the plate, I know I'm not the only one who had this crazy thought: Make him bunt. Ridiculous, maybe, but there was absolutely no reason to think he could get the job done.

Note the word choice: "strolled" to the plate. As if A-Rod hadn't a care in the world. Why couldn't he be more fierce up there?!

Let the record also reflect that if Tim Keown were managing the Yankees last night, he would have had Alex Rodriguez bunt, one of the stupidest things I've ever heard someone admit.

He hit into a double play, effectively ending the Yankees' season.

No. Jason Giambi followed with a hit. Gary Sheffield followed with a hit. The winning run came to the plate after A-Rod's GIDP. How in the world did his double play "effectively" end the Yankees' season? I'll tell you what effectively ended their year: Hideki Matsui grounding out to Darin Erstad to make the third out in the ninth. After that play, they were done.

Matsui, by the way, a guy nobody is writing "head case" articles about (or ever will, I'll venture), had one RBI and batted .200 during the ALDS.

Jeter had three hits in front of him Sunday night. Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield each had three hits behind him. A-Rod had two hits in five games, both in the Yankees' 11-7 loss in Game 3.

Yes, those are all good players.

In the 1998 ALDS against Texas, Jeter only had one hit in three games. In the 2001 ALCS against Seattle, Jeter had two hits in five games.

But please, continue maligning Alex Rodriguez' character.

It's a fascinating case study. During the regular season, the man is as consistently spectacular as any player of his generation. But when everybody's watching, A-Rod plays with a self-consciousness that's rare in a great athlete.

Again, A-Rod's career playoff OPS before this year: .973. OPS isn't perfect, but certainly it's more substantial than Tim Keown's gut feeling.

He had some moments last year in the postseason -- three homers and eight RBI in 11 games -- but they were mostly hollow, especially against the Red Sox.

That sounds like a pretty good couple of series.

And in five games against the Angels, he was a guy watching himself, and watching everybody else watch him. He can feel the eyes of every fan who ever questioned his contract, every reporter who ever asked him about his lack of playoff production, every ex-teammate who ever intimated his team improved when A-Rod went elsewhere. You know George Steinbrenner's lurking in the background of A-Rod's mind, as well, like a man tapping his fingers on a desk waiting for the big hit that justifies his investment.

Okay, this just gets creepy. Read that first sentence again. What the hell is he talking about? Jesus. Read the whole paragraph again. You're making this judgment after 20 bad at-bats? You have this incredible insight into the human psyche? Get out of sportswriting, Keown, and get into soothsayery.

And don't tell me A-Rod has a history of coming up small in the playoffs. That's simply not true.

Tim McCarver ventured as close to the "choke" word as he could when he said the Yankees have been surprised at how many good pitches A-Rod took during the Angels series.

Tim McCarver is an idiot. A-Rod walked six times in the five games. He had a bad series, but at least he had an OBP of .435. As far as I know, OBP is the single most important aspect of hitting: not making an out. He should have slugged better, but there will be five game stretches when even the best players don't perform that well.

That didn't happen during the 162 games leading up to the series, but everything changes when you're the big-money guy on the big-money team and losing is not considered an option.

What? Last year, when he was the big-money guy on the big-money team, A-Rod hit .320 in the playoffs and had eight RBI.

His affliction isn't limited to the batter's box, either. His lazy throw to first in the sixth, a fraction too late to get Juan Rivera, was another example of his lack of fluidity when everybody's watching.

That lazy throw came after he showed pretty decent range to snag a hard hit ball and then stumbled.

He's a good defensive third baseman who OPSes 1.000! And he should be playing shortstop!

But you're right, he's not "fluid" enough.

It's as though he forgets who he is and starts thinking about his contract, his status, his rep as a big-time player who comes up small when it counts. It was hard to watch, no matter what you think of the guy. When the moment got big, he got tight -- even tighter than West's strike zone.

I don't like A-Rod and I think you're completely wrong.

I'd also like to point out that all this choker/underachiever/head case nonsense was applied to Barry Bonds (another once-or-twice-in-a-generation player) for years. Then, in 2002, he hit eight home runs and had 16 RBI in the playoffs. He also posted a .700 OBP and a 1.294 SLG in the World Series that year.

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posted by Junior  # 1:22 PM
He had some moments last year in the postseason -- three homers and eight RBI in 11 games -- but they were mostly hollow, especially against the Red Sox.

This is a horribly dishonest argument that will compel me to speak out in favor of this guy, who I het. If a guy has a line of 3 for 5 with 3 RBI and 5 runs scored, as he did in game 3 of the 2004 CS, it's hollow because his team won by 11. When a guy hits a ball that lands in Copley off of an inexplicably sharp Derek Lowe to put his team up two, as he did in game 4, it's hollow because his team eventually lost the game in the most dramatic fashion possible.

I've said it before, but the only way A-Rod will ever shed the label of playoff head case is by riding Scott Brosius's coattails to multiple rings.
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