Hey, A-Rod! Smile!

One of a Kind

What is now abundantly clear is that there is a unique set of rules that apply to coverage of Mr. Rodriguez.

“A-Rod is in a class by himself,” said New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro. “In the context of time, Patrick Ewing comes closest, but he was certainly not at this level.”

But close attention from the New York press—particularly of the negative variety—is nothing new for Mr. Rodriguez. He was criticized in the past for seeming to express ambivalence about being in New York and, oddly, for getting caught by a photographer sunbathing without a shirt on in Central Park. And earlier this year, converging storylines about Mr. Rodriguez’s alleged cold feud with the talismanic Yankee captain Derek Jeter, about his apparent unhappiness in New York and, bizarrely, about an incident at a children’s-book reading by Mr. Rodriguez at which a reporter was manhandled, all came together in a perfect storm of public disdain.

Put simply, the star was being bullied, and he couldn’t figure out how to make it stop. It seemed as if he wouldn’t even make it until Opening Day, let alone last the season.

There was a respite once the games started and Mr. Rodriguez got off to a blisteringly impressive start.

But then came “Stray-Rod.” The coverage over the last week of Mr. Rodriguez—of his conduct on the field and, more extraordinarily, of his female companion—has been something else entirely.

Even by the standards of the toughest sports-media market in the country, the daily barrages aimed at the Yankees’ handsome, hyper-talented third baseman have been nearly unprecedented in their scope, and almost certainly unequalled in their visceral, almost gleeful negativity. They haven’t so much brought to mind the scrutiny of Joe Namath or Reggie Jackson in their athletic heydays as they have that of O.J. Simpson, post–bloody glove.

Of course, other athletes’ marital problems have provided tabloid fodder this past year, including Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Nets point guard Jason Kidd and Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca. But each of those scandals stemmed from an already-public divorce case, not from a random paparazzo’s telephoto lens.

So what made Mr. Rodriguez fair game? And why is he such an irresistible target?

There are a number of theories, some less rational than others.

One of them—a complicated one, given the fact that Mr. Rodriguez was voted league M.V.P. two seasons ago—is that he has performed disappointingly since arriving in New York in 2004.

Though he currently leads the American League in home runs and ranks fourth in R.B.I.’s, his spectacularly high contract—$252 million over 10 years—has rankled, as has the fact that his team hasn’t won a pennant since he joined them. Worse, he has acquired a reputation as a choke artist: In the playoffs, he has batted .103, with no home runs or R.B.I.’s since 2005.

Hey, A-Rod! Smile!