You don’t need me to tell you that the 2009 Yankees were a very good baseball club. We all know how their season ended. We all know that they won a Major League-leading 103 games and captured those final key 11 postseason victories by the time the first week in November rolled around. Been there, done that.
Let me tell you though about one of the players who helps make the Yankees as good as they are. For 28 games at the start of the season, the Yankees were without one Alex Rodriguez, their high-priced and sometimes high-maintenance third baseman. Through those 28 games, the Yanks were 13-15, spinning their wheels and going nowhere fast. After A-Rod’s return, the team went 90-44. By the end of the season, the Yanks were 82-42 in games in which A-Rod appeared and 21-17 without him. That turnaround might not be only A-Rod’s doing, but he was no small part of the Yanks’ success.
Yesterday, in an interview with YES, A-Rod spoke at length about his 2009 campaign. Even at the steroid revelations, the year started on a bad note for him as he needed a major hip procedure. For A-Rod, the comparison to other players cut down in their primes by bad hips seemed apt. Albert Belle and Bo Jackson were both destined for greater things than they achieved when hip conditions forced them off the field.
“I think I grew up a lot, both on and off the field. Staring at retirement right in the face, kind of like Bo Jackson. That’s the first thing I thought of,” he said on YES. “It was a commitment that I wanted to do for the team, and it was very scary. I knew I was putting the rest of my career at risk, but I felt that with the team at hand, it was a risk worth taking.”
A-Rod’s retiring at 34 is an idea no Yankee wants to consider. That would have been a disastrous development for the Yankees. Overall last year, A-Rod was a 4.4 WAR player, and the swing from those replacing A-Rod to A-Rod was approximately 5 wins. Although the Yanks are still good enough to have won without him, A-Rod is one of those players who makes the rest of the lineup better. His return coincided with Mark Teixeira’s breaking out of a slump, and his presence took pressure off the rest of the lineup.
The Yankees could have filled the A-Rod hole easily this off-season by pursuing Adrian Beltre. The Red Sox’s new third baseman is a far superior defender than A-Rod ever has been at the Hot Corner, but except for Beltre’s insane 2004 campaign, A-Rod has been the better offensive player of the two. A-Rod’s three-year combined WAR is 20; Beltre’s is short of 10.
Now, A-Rod is primed for a big 2010. He didn’t need the second surgery, and he says his hip is feeling great. Outside of some rather mundane Kate Hudson developments, he hasn’t made headlines this winter, and I’m glad he’s around. He shed himself of the clutch burden and proved himself in the eyes of some of the game’s most judgmental fans. The alternative — life without A-Rod — is much, much worse.