Commentary

In the center of his own universe

In Alex-speak, "What did I do?" translates nicely to "Look at me!"

Updated: April 23, 2010, 3:22 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- I'll bet Alex Rodriguez just can't wait to get to work today.

After all, he had slogged through 14 games already this season without once having been the center of any universe other than his own.

For those 14 games, Alex Rodriguez must have felt the way the Israelites felt while wandering through the desert for 40 years: Barren. Desolate. Unloved.

But today, the world is back where he wants it, tuned to the A-Rod Channel 24/7. In his utopia, it's all Alex, all the time.

The incident in Thursday's game in Oakland, in which A-Rod enraged Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden by cutting across the mound and stepping on the rubber on his way back to first base after a foul ball, is manna from heaven for a man who is constantly starved for attention.

Not that he doesn't get enough of it on merit. A guy who hits a baseball and fields his position as well as A-Rod is always going to get his share of well-deserved plaudits. It just always seems that the kind of attention he truly craves is the other kind, the kind where he is being singled out as a bad boy, which allows him to adopt his favorite posture, the wide-eyed innocent who is constantly beset by forces beyond his control.

After all, how could he know that guy with the camera would happen to snap a picture just as he was tasting himself in a mirror?

Or that trying to slap a baseball out of an opposing player's glove on the way to first base wasn't just the good, hard-nosed play of a guy who simply wants to win?

Could he help it if he just happened to remember a joke Madonna told him about Sean Penn just as he ran past an infielder trying to camp under a pop fly, prompting him to blurt out an inadvertent "Ha!" and unfortunately causing the guy to drop the ball?

And can't a guy even take his shirt off in Central Park on a hot July day without people (and photographers) stopping to gawk?

[+] Enlarge Alex Rodriguez
Kyle Terada/US PresswireHe helped turn a triple play on Thursday, but that apparently wasn't enough attention for A-Rod.

That, of course, is only a partial list of the reasons why Alex Rodriguez seems to have the unfortunate tendency to rub people the wrong way.

We haven't even gone into the flaunting of the girlfriends, the throwing of various cousins and other lackeys under the bus, the public betrayal of the wife, and oh yeah, that youthful indiscretion during that loosey-goosey time when everyone, it seemed, was sticking needles into their buttocks the way others pop Tic Tacs (to borrow A-Rod's term). For the past 15 years, it seems, Alex Rodriguez's life has been "The Truman Show," with one major difference: In the movie, Jim Carrey didn't want to live on-camera. Alex Rodriguez, it seems, doesn't want to live off-camera. After all, guys who really want to be left alone are left alone. This kind of thing doesn't happen to Derek Jeter, for instance, or to David Wright or to Eli Manning or, so far, to Mark Sanchez. It happens again and again to Alex Rodriguez.

But things had been awfully quiet around Planet Alex all spring. Awfully quiet, in fact, going back to last November and the night the Yankees eliminated the Phillies in the World Series. On that night, A-Rod, having exorcised "the monkey on my back" -- his words -- in helping the Yankees snap their 10-year championship drought, spoke tearfully about having "hit rock bottom" that year before slowly, painfully and manfully clawing his way back.

It occurred to a few people in the room -- but never, of course, to Alex -- that it's extremely difficult for anyone to truly hit rock bottom while making $32 million a year, driving a Maybach, dating a movie star and going to work in sneakers every day, but as far as A-Rod moments go, this was relatively touching and almost genuine.

But clearly, it wasn't enough. He said on that night that he was happy to blend in with the team, that he no longer wanted to be That Guy, the one everyone singles out for the spotlight, that winning was the only thing that mattered to him anymore.

Judging by his history, you are fair to suspect that perhaps he didn't really mean that, or at least, didn't know he didn't really mean that. Because the great dichotomy of A-Rod is that he is a man who can be totally full of himself and at the same time completely oblivious to the effect he has on those around him.

So I didn't doubt him for a moment when he said he had no idea that crossing the pitcher's mound was an offense, even though, upon reflection, it seems in its own way as rude as dropping your empty glass on someone else's table in a nightclub. You just don't do it.

But having re-watched the video -- because, honestly, in the course of a baseball game, even one as brief as Thursday's, few people in the park other than the pitcher are watching a runner's route back to the bag -- I can tell you for sure that A-Rod was being less than truthful when he said he didn't even know Braden was talking to him.

The dismissive wave of his hands toward the pitcher makes it quite clear he knew what was being said, and to whom. So much for that.

But the real moment of truth came when A-Rod, having gone through his usual routines -- the wide-eyed stare, the feigned innocence, the denials -- asked his questioners who was saying all these bad things about him.

"Dallas Braden," came the answer.

"Exactly," Alex Rodriguez said. "Exactly."

In other words, where does this mere mortal "with just a handful of wins" -- get the nerve to criticize the Magnificence of Me?

"I thought it was kind of funny, actually," Rodriguez said. Funny, and exciting, and thrilling, because once again, the Alex Show was back on the air.

There's only thing in this world that Alex Rodriguez seems to fear: Being ignored.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

MORE MLB HEADLINES