With an eye roll or a punch line, people outside the Yankees’ clubhouse often dismiss the notion that Alex Rodriguez is a good teammate and a mentor to young players.
But in talking with Yankees veterans and up-and-coming players alike, on or off the record, there is no such reaction.
Make no mistake: A-Rod’s bountiful off-the-field issues, including a suspension for the entire 2014 season, are just as known inside the clubhouse as outside it. But in the clubhouse, you’re either a positive or a negative, a good teammate or a not-so-good one. And as Mark Teixeira, set to retire at season’s end, put it: “We’re going to miss Alex in this clubhouse.”
Didi Gregorius struggled during the first month of the 2015 season after taking over for franchise icon Derek Jeter. One afternoon in that first month, Rod riguez stopped by Gregorius’ locker and suggested picking a date when he might work with the shortstop.
“He has a lot of experience under his belt, and if you don’t want to learn, you’ll never learn,” Gregorius said. “He took me out there to take ground balls, about the league, getting to know the runners. Be prepared every day. That always stuck in my head.”
CC Sabathia came to the Yankees before the 2009 season with a resume that included a Cy Young Award, but he still felt trepidation about fitting in. He felt welcomed immediately by the slugger.
“A great teammate,” Sabathia said. “He’s always been nothing but helpful to me since I’ve been here. I can’t speak before that, but he’s always been fantastic with me and just helping every aspect of the game. His baseball mind is unbelievable, so I think that’s why he’ll do well as an assistant to Hal.”
On Sunday, the Yankees announced that Rodriguez will be unconditionally released after Friday night’s home game against the Rays, then sign a contract with the team as “a special adviser and instructor,” reporting directly to managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
While the Yankees don’t want A-Rod on their 25-man roster anymore, they do want him working with their young players, something he’s been doing unofficially in recent years anyway. It was not unusual to see the bilingual Rod riguez holding court with small groups of them in spring training, particularly Latin players who speak little English and need help adjusting, whether it be baseball-related or not. “We understand a little bit of English,’’ Luis Severino said, “but in Spanish you can get more of the advice someone is giving you.”
Severino, 22, recalled Rod riguez talking to him last August shortly after the righthander was called up in August and inserted into the heat of a pennant race.
“Every time we’ve talked, he’s helped me,” said Severino, who will start tonight at Fenway Park. “He helped me a lot about pitching up here, he talked about the importance of pitching up [in the strike zone] in the big leagues.”
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez said Rodriguez has been a mentor to him since his first big-league spring training in 2013. “He’s always given us good advice. On and off the field, he’s always been there for us, he always has time for us,” Sanchez said through his translator. “One thing he has told me is about creating a routine, a routine that I can use to prepare myself for every game.”
Like Sabathia, Brian McCann lauded A-Rod’s baseball IQ, which he described as “off the charts.” He added, “He knows so much about the game, from the pitching side to the hitting side to picking up little things. It’s incredible, his attention to detail.”
Joe Girardi hasn’t promised Alex Rodriguez any playing time for the Yankees’ three-game series at Fenway Park, and his numbers against the scheduled Boston starters may keep him anchored to the bench.
AB H HR RBI SO BA
Rick Porcello (RHP) 20 3 006.150
Drew Pomeranz (LHP) No ABs
Steven Wright (RHP) 5 1001.200
A-Rod has been most successful against Clay Buchholz, the former Red Sox starter who has been relegated to the bullpen. He is 13-for-29 (.448) with three HRs against Buchholz.