Sports Psychology Entry #1: Derek is the Reason

Last night as A-Rod’s drive cleared the left field bullpen in the first-inning, one renowned sports psychologist turned to a scout who turned to a beat reporter. No words were exchanged. Instead, they all looked at each other knowingly.

They all understood why this was happening, why A-Rod was in the middle of one of the greatest seasons by a Yankee ever.

Derek Jeter.

If you’ll recall last year, the song was very different. Rodriguez struggled. He looked uncomfortable at the plate. There could only be one reason for this.

Derek Jeter.

From Bob Klapisch’s September 20, 2006 column:

[A]ll Giambi was doing was filling a
conversational void created by the one Yankee who could have — and
perhaps should have — confronted A-Rod.

That would be Jeter, of course. If there’s anyone who could make
Rodriguez understand the difference between greatness and greatness
under pressure, it’s the guy batting almost .400 with runners in
scoring position. But anyone hoping for a Jeter-Rodriguez summit
shouldn’t hold their breath. The cold war between them is even more
pronounced than the one with Mussina. Jeter reportedly has never
forgiven A-Rod for the disparaging remarks he made in Esquire in 2001,
and as one Yankee official said, "There is no coming back from one of
Derek’s grudges. Once you’re gone, you’re gone."

Clearly Derek Jeter’s indifference and non-support was torturing A-Rod last year. He was psychologically tormented. The Captain’s failure to embrace A-Rod led directly to A-Rod’s long swing (no chance that the extra weight he was carrying had anything to do with his slowed bat last season. No chance) and his bumbling in the field.

But this year, Jeter became (as we in the sports psychology field like to say) "healthy". When A-Rod passes him in the clubhouse,  Derek is sure to make eye-contact, even smile. The turning point, however, occurred the first weekend of the season. After a loss against the Orioles (the game before A-Rod’s grandslam walk-off), Jeter and A-Rod were left alone in the locker-room. A-Rod was nervous, he couldn’t stand  this awkward silence that existed between them ever since the Esquire article. He rushed to put his clothes on. But then Derek said something that would change the course of A-Rod’s season, improve his bat-swing, make him play a competent third-base.

"I forgive you." The Captain turned to A-Rod and the two embraced.

And this is why A-Rod is on pace to hit 65 homers.This season you might have noticed that every time the slugger hits a no-doubter he turns to the Yankees dugout first. He’s looking at Jeter. It’s his way of saying, "Thank you for freeing me of this psychological burden."

I am your sports psychologist here to explain why things are happening the way they are in the baseball world. This is my first (and probably last) entry.

23 comments… add one
  • Is this serious?
    Probably won’t help him stay though. Ah well.

    Lar June 18, 2007, 11:12 am
  • Nick, you’re better than this. A-Rod is having this year because he’s the greatest player in the history of the game, and if I had to guess, he’s at ease with his situation because he knows that the ball is in his court.

    Regular_Brad. June 18, 2007, 11:19 am
  • Probably won’t help him stay though. Ah well.
    No, the new huge contract will do that. And it will be worth every single penny.

    Regular_Brad. June 18, 2007, 11:22 am
  • I pictured the pivotal moment more like Good Will Hunting: Jeter holding A-Rod and repeating “it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault” over and over again. *sniffle*

    Matt SF June 18, 2007, 11:24 am
  • So Derek Jeter should be the MVP of this young season then.

    Lar June 18, 2007, 11:28 am
  • It could clearly be argued that shortcomings in Jeter’s “captaining” of the team is one of the key difference in why the Yanks haven’t brought home any world series rings of late. When Pauly was captain, many have said he was the clubhouse leader that Torre isn’t. He was the guy who gave the pep talks and he was the guy who helped players through cold spells. Say what you want about Jeter as a great player but I don’t think he can fill Pauly’s shoes in the clubhouse. Hopefully, he is learning and growing through this experience.

    Steve June 18, 2007, 11:39 am
  • Paul O’Neill (is that who we’re talking about here?) was not a Yankee captain. I’m not sure anyone looked at O’Neill as a captain. Tino, maybe. Non starter.

    YF June 18, 2007, 11:45 am
  • Bard, please look at the tag.

    Nick-YF June 18, 2007, 12:19 pm
  • or Brad as he is better known!

    Anonymous June 18, 2007, 12:19 pm
  • Brad – The greatest player in the history of the game? Really? Honestly? He’s not even the greatest player on his own team.
    He is having what is known as a career year. Every great player has one. Hell, even some not so good players have them (see Anderson, Brady).

    jp-sf June 18, 2007, 2:31 pm
  • I’d say you’re half right, JP. A-Rod’s certainly the greatest hitter on his own team. Were he on the Red Sox, he’d be the second-greatest hitter on that team (Ramirez, Manny). Not sure about “greatest player in the history of the game.” I’d lean toward Williams, myself, but I’d freely admit some bias there.
    Nick was just having some laughs, but the underlying point — that Jeter was unfairly blamed last year for A-Rod’s struggles — misses the arguments made last season. Jeter wasn’t the cause for A-Rod’s struggles, but he certainly could have made life easier for him by speaking up for him with the fans like he did Giambi. Not sure if Jeter could have explained the difference between “performing and performing under pressure.” Klapisch might instead have been showing the difference between writing cogently and writing under deadline. :-)

    Paul SF June 18, 2007, 2:37 pm
  • ARod is a great hitter, no doubt. I just don’t know why I’m not scared when he’s up with the game on the line (the HR off a poor pitch Paps threw 0-2 notwithstanding). When Jeter is up in a clutch spot, I’m terrified.

    jp-sf June 18, 2007, 2:41 pm
  • It wasn’t really a poor pitch unless you think ever throwing a strike on 0-2 is a bad idea (which I sort of understand, but I think it’s okay to vary it a little…). It was in the lowest-awayest part of the strike zone. A-Rod reached for it, smacked it.
    I think the clutch thing is silly (A-Rod’s had 2 come-from-behind walkoff homers at least this year, and that homer off Papelbon), but I will admit I am a little more afraid if there are runners in scoring position and it’s Jeter at the plate. However, I’m more afraid if it’s a 1-run lead or tie game and A-Rod’s at the plate.
    However once more…that can pretty much be attributed to Jeter’s higher batting average, and A-Rod’s greater power threat.

    Devine June 18, 2007, 2:49 pm
  • Actually, after the game Paps admitted he missed his spot with that pitch. When you have someone as locked in as ARod 0-2, you really cannot make the mistake of throwing a fastball away to him that catches 1/3 of the plate. He should have either went split down and away or slider away there. He didn’t and it cost him.
    And you’re right, this year he has been way better with the game on the line than in years past. I’m still more worried when Jeter’s up though.

    jp-sf June 18, 2007, 3:08 pm
  • Yeesh. Right now, no, he’s not one of the greatest all-time. (He is, however, without a doubt, at this moment, the most dangerous hitter in the game). He’s only 32, for cripes sake. But when all is said and done, people are projecting him to be among the 5 greatest players of all time, which, going by his pace, is not ridiculous at all.
    He’s having a career year. But a career year for a great player is a historic year. When you’re on pace for 67 HR and 181 RBI (best all-time for a non-juiced player), well, it’s hard for your year to be anything but.
    Truth is, he was a great player, he is a great player, and he will be a great player for many years to come. Manny is probably the greatest right-handed hitter of our generation, but with a few more years under his belt, Alex Rodriguez might just take on that mantle.
    Alex Rodriguez will be the youngest player ever, by nearly a full year, to hit his 500th homerun (Jimmie Fox was 32 years and 366 days old). Try to tell me that does not impress you a little bit.

    AndrewYF June 18, 2007, 5:48 pm
  • Please note that when I say “best all-time”, I’m just going by homeruns. No doubt Teddy Ballgame’s .411 (or so) year is something that will never be repeated, and is by definition ‘best’.

    AndrewYF June 18, 2007, 5:50 pm
  • Not to pick nits, Andrew, as I agree with you entirely, but Hack Wilson wasn’t juiced when he got his 190 RBI (or is it 191 or 189 now? I forget.)… Well he mighta been “juiced,” but not with steroids…

    Paul SF June 18, 2007, 6:13 pm
  • And even in the juiced era, people don’t usually get much higher than 160 RBI’s, so anytime anybody gets up there, it’s a damn good season.
    Of course, it needs *a lot* of things to go right for that to happen, since you don’t fully control your destiny, per se, but in this lineup, you can’t help but give it good odds (or at least, as good as you can give it for these rare events..)

    Lar June 18, 2007, 6:31 pm
  • “Jimmie Fox was 32 years and 366 days old”
    How does that work? Even in a leap year the oldest he could be without turning 33 is 32 years and 365 days.

    Zulu.as.SF June 18, 2007, 6:52 pm
  • “Of course, it needs *a lot* of things to go right for that to happen, since you don’t fully control your destiny, per se, but in this lineup…”
    Which is why RBI is not a good stat to look at.
    Without getting into the real sabermetric stuff, I’d just like to point out that A-Rod’s OPS+ (on-base + slugging adjusted to league average) is an ungodly 195. His previous career high in that category was 167 (twice, most recently in 2005). That’s just nuts.

    yankeesnj June 18, 2007, 6:54 pm
  • Right now, no, he’s not one of the greatest all-time.
    Not to disagree with Andrew in particular, but I sincerely think that A-Rod is already one of the greatest players of all time. Forgetting career longevity as a parameter, he’s already established himself as superior, skillwise, to at least 99% of the players who have come before him on offense (at the plate AND on the basepaths), and before he moved to third he was a very good fielding shortstop, absolutely fearsome from that position when you factored in what he brought at the plate. Not much can convince me that A-Rod isn’t one of the best ever, even at 32.

    SF June 18, 2007, 7:14 pm
  • 195 is insane, considering most of the highest OPS+ years consist of Bonds and Babe (and to a lesser extent, Ted) gets so many intentional walks to boost that OBP..
    I wonder when ARod will get that treatment..

    Lar June 18, 2007, 7:25 pm
  • “I forgive you.” The Captain turned to A-Rod and the two embraced.
    Then, the two Yankee icons engaged in a long, slow passionate kiss.
    Romantic music swells on the soundtrack, as we
    FADE to BLACK.

    SoxFan June 19, 2007, 1:55 am

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