As a kid, I always found it funny when Yankee Stadium was referred to as "the house that Ruth built." The phrase owed its origins to 1923, the year that the stadium opened and when their star slugger Babe Ruth led the team to a world championship. But Ruth was also my grandmother's name and so it became a longstanding joke between she and I every time I told her I was headed uptown to watch the Yankees play at her ballpark.
This morning, the day after the Yankees won their 27th World Series, I decided that I will forever refer to the new Yankee Stadium as "the house that Kate built."
I came up with this after spending a couple of hours in front of the television last night and a few this morning eagerly reading post-World Series analysis. In explaining the Yankee victory, the narratives that sports journalists seem to most frequently circle around were 1) the absence of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, 2) the core four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada, and of course, 3) the Alex Rodriguez redemption story. Kevin Kernan captured the widely circulated story of Rodriguez's transformation from "pariah to messiah" in the New York Post: "In the end it wasn't about homeruns, Madonna or Kate Hudson or anything else. It was about trust. Along the way, Alex Rodriguez learned to trust himself on and off the field, and that made all the difference."
As the mythology goes, Alex Rodriguez's February confession that he tested positive for steroid use in 2003 set him free, forcing him to confront a persistent mistrust he had long held towards himself (and his teammates). Once liberated, his natural ability was able to flourish in high pressure situations like never before. The redemption narrative picked up steam the past month and so it wasn't surprising when, immediately following yesterday's Yankee victory, he was asked time and time again about the confession, the emotional burden it had long been exacting upon him and the demons he banished upon coming clean.
But do the facts confirm the redemption narrative or do they point to something else? Rodriguez returned from hip surgery on May 9 of this year and dramatically homered on the first pitch he saw in Baltimore, but back in April most observers weren't thinking of this season as a "new beginning" for the much-maligned superstar. And even after that first at bat in Baltimore, Rodriguez struggled to return to form. This was compounded by off-the-field distractions, namely, the miring of his image by the impending publication of Selena Roberts' unauthorized biography, A-Rod. Though he had confessed months earlier, in early May of this year's baseball season, the star had not been set free and Yankee fans continued to debate, as they have for the past few years, if the team might even be better without him.
By my estimation, the turning point of Rodriguez's year (and of his career) didn't just happen with his steroid confession. As a lifelong Yankee fan, I sensed the A-wakening showing its first signs roughly around May 19 or so, coinciding right around the time that gossip columns reported Rodriguez canoodling with Kate Hudson. Soon after, Rodriguez really hit his stride and the rest of the team seemed to respond as a result. After Hudson and Rodriguez shared their first public smooch at Yankee Stadium on July 26, the team went on to win 55 games and lose only 25 -- it was as if their collective fate was sealed with that kiss.
But the story doesn't end there, the more hot-and-heavy the couple got, the more Rodriguez's production at the plate soared. On September 2, In Touch reported that Alex and Kate were shacking up together, a month in which Rodriguez would go on to bat over .350. In October, friends of Hudson told Us Weekly that Kate (bringing new meaning to the nickname "A-Rod") couldn't keep quiet about all the great sex that she and the slugger had been having. Was it mere coincidence that Rodriguez would arguably have a better October than had ever been had by Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson? For the postseason, Rodriguez finished at .365 with six home runs and a franchise-record 18 RBIs, 8 of which tied or gave the Yankees the lead.
My point isn't that the steroids drama didn't impact Rodriguez's remarkable journey this year, but that sports journalists have delved into every aspect of Rodriguez's private life to provide context for his success this past season but for some reason have shied away from the elephant in the room. It might sound more like the stuff of the bar room than the newsroom, but the facts seem to warrant the question I'd like to ask: Is A-Rod's story about the power of redemption or is it about the power of the pussy?
Follow Joshua Neuman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joshuaneuman