Alex Rodriguez incited quite the kerfuffle Sunday night when, in an effort to come up with material to replace what had been used up by the rain delay, he decided to drag Yu Darvish. Speaking mainly from his concept of locker room culture and hints at a conversation or three, A-Rod talked about how Darvish has taken control of his own rehab and how his teammates have soured the “great young talent.”
The idea that some of his Cubs teammates might be a little frustrated is neither novel nor hard to believe, as the whole situation surrounding Darvish’s injury has been somewhat odd. More than that, though, he was expected to be a huge part of the rotation this year and he hasn’t been. Add in the language barrier and the possibility of him coming across as (or flat-out being) aloof, and it makes a lot of sense.
But to essentially portray Darvish as a whiny prima donna who’s tearing the clubhouse apart is just…yeah.
“It’s been a very sobering year with the debacle of the start of Yu Darvish, who’s been devastating,” Rodriguez began his commentary.
“It’s gotten so bad, now they won’t say this publicly, but it’s gotten so bad they basically let him police and take control of his own rehab, which is scary. Because they don’t want to create anything that he can kind of push back against.
“He’ll let the team know when he’s ready, which, let me tell you what that means to a clubhouse: You lose respect quickly. And my concern for him, ’cause he’s a great young talent, is it may take two or three or four years and you may never get that back.”
To be fair, A-Rod is probably in a pretty solid position of authority to know about losing respect in the locker room. And it’d be one thing if he was presenting this with qualifiers like “might” or “could.” Instead, he’s painting this as actual and not hypothetical, which he drove home with a statement that sounds and reads like purported fact.
He’s also putting everything out there as a “Man up and play” situation, which is dubious at best and dangerous at worst. No one but the player knows exactly what and how he’s feeling, so to even suggest offhand that someone should give up control of their own body is offputting. And that’s coming from a guy who routinely and admittedly relied on his own judgement and outside sources ahead of those of his various teams.
“So this is an issue that if you’re Cubs Nation, you have to watch the Yu Darvish development, because it’s not good inside that clubhouse right now,” Rodriguez declared.
Here's Alex Rodriguez making shit up about Yu Darvish and the Cubs. pic.twitter.com/3KmUyCc6Nu
— Aldo Soto (@AldoSoto21) July 30, 2018
And that’s not all he had to say on the topic, either. The former player went on to lament Darvish’s presence with the team at all, saying the players would prefer to have him — or other injured players — off in Arizona so they weren’t getting in the way of the other 25 active members of the roster.
Never mind that the Cubs designed their new clubhouse with loads of state-of-the-art training and therapy equipment for the express purpose of keeping injured players around. Anyone remember Kyle Schwarber, who remained in Chicago throughout the 2016 season and was a big emotional part of the team prior to his World Series comeback? And what about Kris Bryant, should he get out of the way with that injured shoulder that has sapped his production and playing time?
Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza also talked about the idea that teammates would prefer to back a guy like Tyler Chatwood, who goes out there every fifth day and battles even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. I don’t know, man, I can’t imagine everyone felt great about Chatwood taking the bump with the way he was throwing. But who knows.
As I was watching, I couldn’t help but think back to a similar situation a few years ago with a Cubs game on ESPN in which Bobby Valentine completely dogged Starlin Castro. While the motivations and individuals were obviously different, it was still someone in a position of assumed authority pushing a negative narrative on a national stage.
In A-Rod’s case, it seems to be a matter of getting out in front of his skis and talking to fill the void. He’s great as a studio analyst when the topics are set up on tees and he’s got finite space within which to maneuver. As he’s proven frequently during live broadcasts, however, he’s gets himself into trouble when he’s allowed to be extemporaneous.
All that said, there are some kernels of truth here. There are absolutely some members of the team who are questioning Darvish’s desire or the severity of his injury. ESPN’s Jesse Rogers has said that players have told him things off the record and that you get some eye-rolls when you ask others about the pitcher’s rehab. And Rick Sutcliffe railed against Darvish when he joined Waddle and Silvy on ESPN 1000 this past Friday.
Now before you go getting any ideas, no, I don’t believe there’s any significance to the fact that all of those referenced are employed by the Four-Letter. I do, however, believe there are some narratives at play in these cases and that a shared employer means easier access to some of those ideas.
But Sutcliffe basically showed his ass when he flat-out said he didn’t like Darvish because the pitcher wouldn’t sign autographs for kids at spring training. Granted, he did point out that these were kids with disabilities, but the whole “He didn’t sign for me” thing is a chip usually reserved for fans’ shoulders. And Sutcliffe, while not full-on Goose Gossage, absolutely reeks of the old school mentality in which pitchers didn’t even lift weights because they thought it would mess with their mechanics.
The thing you have to remember here is that this isn’t the same Cubs clubhouse Sutcliffe was a part of. And even though he spends more time around these guys than the average broadcaster, it’s no different from your or me back to our old high school or college decades later. Things move on, people change. You can’t apply the same logic you used back then, and that’s especially true of the culture Theo Epstein and Co. have built.
Remember, this is virtually the same group that welcomed Tommy La Stella back into the fold two years ago after he left the organization for a while. There’s nothing worse on the scale of perceived macho wrongdoings than quitting, so I’m pretty sure these guys can deal with Darvish being injured, even if they don’t think it’s as bad as he says it is.
“We know that there is an injury there, Joe Maddon said after the game when asked about A-Rod’s comments. “We support his recovery. Everybody in there does and everybody in the coach’s room does, also, throughout the organization. It’s unfortunate that it was relayed that way but that is not true.”
I should note that Maddon and other players will undoubtedly back Darvish publicly, there’s no other way to do it. And I totally buy that some of those guys are frustrated by the whole thing, just like some — cough, John Lackey, cough — were surely incensed by the way the team welcomed La Stella back after his time away.
But when La Stella calls the Cubs “the most nurturing and people-friendly environment you will find in sports,” he’s talking about more than just the way they treated him. He’s talking about something much bigger than a few individuals being upset about his actions. It may have been a little easier for him to be accepted back because he’d already established those relationships, so perhaps Darvish does have more of an uphill battle in that regard.
That said, the moral of the story is that no one is perfect and the Cubs clubhouse isn’t some idyllic wonderland of acceptance in which all are embraced the same. It is, however, probably a lot closer to baseball’s Shangri-La than anything Rodriguez or Sutcliffe experienced during their playing days. And to use their platforms to portray some kind of mutiny feels disingenuous and harmful.
On a brighter note, we don’t have to worry about another ESPN broadcast until two weeks from now, when the Cubs will face the Nationals. And Bryce Harper. Oh God, serenity now.