Two members of the Yankees' team hierarchy came to Alex Rodriguez's defense Friday, saying the besieged third baseman has shouldered a disproportionate amount of blame for the team's embarrassingly abrupt exit from the postseason.
But that doesn't mean there isn't an undercurrent of discontent within the organization regarding A-Rod.
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One person familiar with the team's thinking said Friday afternoon that Rodriguez, 37, needs to decide whether his primary focus will be on baseball or on being a celebrity -- not both.
Obviously, for much of his career, A-Rod balanced the two. But, the person said, the three-time MVP needs to come to terms with the fact that he isn't the same player at 37 that he was at 27. Or even 32 or 33.
The feeling is "if he gets his arms around that, he can still be very, very good," the person said. But the sense is "he can't come to grips that he's not a 50- home-run guy anymore."
Rodriguez's on-field performance was bad enough this postseason (3-for-25), but he blended in with many of his teammates in that respect. Poor offensive performances peppered the lineup, starting with Robinson Cano (3-for-40) and continuing with Curtis Granderson (3-for-30), Russell Martin (5-for-31) and Nick Swisher (5-for-30).
But none of those players got caught allegedly flirting with two women in the stands -- as A-Rod did -- as the Yankees were falling to the Tigers in ALCS Game 1, the first of four straight losses.
Though no one with the team has commented publicly on the report from the New York Post -- which said A-Rod had a baseball sent to the two women seated behind the dugout in an attempt to obtain their phone numbers -- several sources have said the Yankees were incensed. That, however, had nothing to do with his being benched for ALCS Games 3 and 4. That bridge already had been crossed in ALDS Game 5.
That said, A-Rod didn't deserve all the criticism lobbed his way, team president Randy Levine said. "It's unfair to single out one person," he said by phone yesterday. "I think it was a total team and organizational disappointment. Alex is not responsible. No one player is responsible. The collapse was caused by no one person, and everyone needs to take responsibility."
Hank Steinbrenner, the man most responsible for extending A-Rod's deal to 10 years and $275 million in 2007, even weighed in from Tampa.
"He was just one of quite a few that just had a bad time at the plate,'' the team's co-chairperson told The Associated Press Friday. "So is it fair to accuse him of everything but the Kennedy assassination? No, it's not fair, but we'll see what happens from this point on.''
Levine, Hank Steinbrenner and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner -- the latter via statement -- spoke the afternoon after a four-game ALCS sweep at the hands of the Tigers abruptly ended the Yankees' season.
Hank Steinbrenner, who now has little to do with the day-to-day operations of the team, declined to speculate on any offseason moves that might include Rodriguez, who has a full no-trade clause. "I'm not going to get into that at this point,'' he said.
As for the season's postmortem, the tone was softer than last year, when Levine used the word "failure" in describing 2011 after a loss to the Tigers in the ALDS.
"You can't call it a failure," Levine said of 2012, noting the myriad of injuries overcome by the Yankees as they posted the AL's best record. "You call it a disappointment."
In his statement, Hal Steinbrenner started by thanking "our passionate fans" before addressing the defeat.
"Make no mistake, this was a bitter end to our year, and we fully intend to examine our season in its totality, assess all of our strengths and weaknesses and take the necessary steps needed to maintain our sole focus of winning the World Series in 2013," he said. "Great teams -- and organizations -- use disappointment as a motivation for future improvements and success. In the days, weeks and months ahead, we plan to do what's necessary to return this franchise to the World Series."
The statement continued: "We may have fallen short yesterday but we never feel sorry for ourselves and never make excuses. We already are beginning the process to find a way to win our 28th world championship . . . Nothing has changed. Nothing will change. My family -- and our organization -- has a long-standing commitment to provide all of our fans a championship-caliber team year after year."