Here's the back page of today's Daily News, the morning after the Yankees took part in a six-inning, totally informal, intrasquad "game," without actual human pitchers:
OK, I laughed. Especially at the "(inset)" in the cutline, for some reason.
The story's pretty much what you'd expect. (There's also an infographic.) Rodriguez grounded out and popped out in two at-bats against the pitching machine. He wasn't alone—the likes of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Mark Teixeira all went hitless, and Chris Young struck out. But only Rodriguez heard jeers from multiple (two) fans:
"Boooo! Have fun in Wilkes-Barre!" a fan shouted as Rodriguez stepped to the plate, referring to the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate. After A-Rod flied out, the same fan screamed, "Just like the playoffs!"
Another fan in the same section joined in, yelling: "That'll get you to .170 this year!"
Alex Rodriguez's return to baseball and to the Yankees is going to be one of 2015's most fascinating ongoing stories. Even setting aside the very real question of whether he's got anything left in the tank (let alone enough to not embarrass himself over the three years and $64 million remaining on his contract), A-Rod promises to be one of the most divisive sports figures in recent memory. Rodriguez is supremely unlikeable, but his success would stick it to even more detestable entities: MLB, with its willingness to shield actual bad guys to make A-Rod a scapegoat and deflect its own PED complicity, and the Yankees, who are still trying to smarm their way out of a contract.
What's remarkable is how even the split seems to be. Nationally, and in New York, just as many people will be rooting for Rodriguez as will be taking glee in his failures. And the Daily News has very obviously positioned itself to be the sports section of choice for the latter group.
I don't think it's controversial to say that the Daily News' coverage has long had an anti-Rodriguez streak, one that emerged most clearly in its coverage of the Biogenesis scandal. The reporting was accurate, and it was deep, but it was not broad. The sources were MLB officials, or at least those sympathetic to MLB. The tone was always critical of Rodriguez, no matter the story: when he cut a deal with prosecutors, he "sang to the feds," but when he refused to cut a deal with MLB, he "could have chosen a more dignified route." Of all the Daily News' scoops, there was no mention of MLB buying stolen documents or protecting Tony Bosch.
None of this is criticism. Only an observation of what's absolutely a valid editorial strategy in a two-tabloid town. (The New York Post, by comparison, is far from pro-Rodriguez, but its coverage is less frequent, more often neutral, and not nearly as hyperbolic.) If you hate A-Rod, the Daily News has positioned itself as the paper for you.
It's going to be a fun season. The Daily News is going to take shots at Rodriguez every chance it can, and be the outlet of choice for team sources to anonymously snipe at him. The internet is going to tend to Rodriguez's defense, if only as a counterweight. The Post is going to test the wind very carefully before taking a side. And Rodriguez? Well, that is the question. But he's become almost secondary to his own circus.