Monday, July 24, 2006

ARod: Not Dead Yet

The best and highest-paid player in baseball is struggling mightily, and yesterday I heard a sportswriter recall the trials of Chuck Knoblauch, a ghost from the recent past that harbinges doom for Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez this season is on pace to have twice as many errors as he did all of last year. I saw his troubles on display recently. When he tossed one ball to the catcher, its flight looked like a poorly aimed throw from deep left field; it came in fast and very wide. At first it occurred to me that he threw the ball as though he were standing at the shortstop's position, but after seeing some additional highlights I realized that was not so -- he's just throwing badly.

It's this problem, more than his hitting slump, that had the sportswriter worried. Chuck Knoblauch was an all-star second baseman with Minnesota, helping the team win a world series in his rookie season. He was traded to New York in 1998 and spent 4 seasons with the Yankees, winning more world series titles with that team. But at some point in his time in New York, he lost the ability to throw the ball. He simply couldn't make his body do what it had done thousands of times before. He left New York and spent one dismal year with the Kansas City Royals before leaving baseball at the age of 34, a few years younger than other players of a similar caliber.

The pressure of New York broke Knoblauch, especially after he had a meltdown in a playoff game, arguing with an umpire while holding a live ball, essentially giving the other team the win. That Alex Rodriguez is suffering a similar mental problem is eerily reminiscent of Knoblauch, and should be cause for some concern among Yankees fans.

But panic is probably premature, as Brooks Robinson recently attested. ARod is twice the player Knoblauch was, and though the pressure he puts on himself is extreme, his raw talent may help him come out of this funk. Jason Giambi had similar struggles in his first seasons with the Yankees, and now is as almost as productive he has always been.

Meanwhile, on the south side, the White Sox troubles continue. Javier Vasquez had a two run lead going into the sixth inning after solo homers by Paul Konerko and Juan Uribe. He was pitching an excellent game for the first 15 outs, but as he has done several times before, Vasquez fell apart the third time through the order. He gave up back-to-back home runs and fell behind the Minnesota Twins 3-2. Boos could be heard from the fans.

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