MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Noble: A-Rod late in recognizing Mays

Noble: A-Rod late in recognizing Mays

Noble: A-Rod late in recognizing Mays
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez knows from Willie Mays. Even if all he knows is that Willie used the basket catch and chose to lose his cap on the bases, that's enough. But we all know A-Rod knows much more than that about the man many consider the game's greatest player.

Because he does, and because Mays has a plaque in Cooperstown and standing among the game's ultra-elite, and because it would have been the proper gesture, A-Rod should have told the world Sunday just how cool it was to push his career RBIs total past that of No. 24. Significant, momentous and, most all, cool.

He should have provided at least 1,903 sound bites about how cool it was, how humbled he was, how honored he felt -- one for every RBI Mays produced in his brilliant career. And then one more for the RBI Sunday that nudged him beyond Willie. It's the least A-Rod could have done. Problem is he did less.

He said nothing. Websites and newspapers published reports of the Yankees' victory against the Tigers on Sunday and Rodriguez's role in it. Comment from the man who has a legitimate chance to displace Henry Aaron as the all-time RBI leader was missing from all accounts, conspicuously so. He had said nothing for public consumption about his standing or exceeding Mays' total.

And that was wrong, a misdemeanor of propriety. A-Rod was guilty of 1,904 counts of neglect.

Willie Mays deserved better. He deserved to have A-Rod gush about him. "Golly, wow, fellas. What a thing to catch the great Willie Mays!" would have sufficed. Or, "I don't have the words to express how happy and proud I am to be on the same level with such a great player."

Instead, A-Rod silently indicated that he had no words. And he's knows better. Somebody with the Yankees should have done to him what teammates did to Roger Maris after he returned to the dugout after No. 61. A-Rod needed a push.

I don't buy what many of my pressbox colleagues say that players have a responsibility to speak with the media. They should, but no obligation exists. I had no problem with Steve Carlton's silence, Dave Kingman's embargo and Roger Clemens' thinly veiled edict. Late in his career, Clemens refused to deal with the media the day before he was scheduled to pitch. He had the right to remain silent. Or, as Yogi might say, "If guy's don't want to talk, you can't stop them."

If George Hendrick wanted to be Duane Thomas sans pads, so be it. The thing was that Hendrick was a good guy to kibitz with on an elevator, in a coffee shop or in the clubhouse. He was opposed to being quoted. Some of my colleagues saw that as a violation of some sort. I didn't, and neither did Rick Hummel, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer who covered Hendrick in his time with the Cardinals.

And now that the media's access to clubhouses has been sharply reduced -- that was done in collective bargaining between the players' union and the clubs -- even players who choose to accommodate the media have less opportunity than players of 2011 and earlier. Too bad. Relationships between journalists and athlete can be mutually rewarding.

We all understand that not all players can be Joe Torre, Tom Glavine, Billy Wagner, Dan Quisenberry, Lenny Harris, Lou Piniella, Barry Larkin, Bobby -- not Barry -- Bonds, Ed Lynch or George Scott. And it's probably a good idea there was only one Reggie.

But Willie Mays deserved better from Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod said nothing Sunday, was invisible before and after the game Monday night. He materialized late in a 35-minute pregame vigil in the Yankees' clubhouse Tuesday. And he spoke, quite aware he had not addressed the topic previously. "My parent's generation ... everybody from that time said he was the best ever. Right? I'm just jealous of the people who did see him play. You know I've been thinking about reaching out to him to see if we can have dinner sometime."

But Sunday afternoon, not Monday or Tuesday, was the time for him to give Mays his due and not do it so indirectly.

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Eddie Murray was said to be a difficult, occasionally unwilling interview. At times, he was. But, while playing for the Mets in 1993, he pushed his career RBIs total past that of Mickey Mantle, the most by a switch-hitter. The Mets were playing in Pittsburgh that Saturday night, and when the clubhouse was opened to the media after the game, I abandoned the routine of speaking first with the manager and went directly to Murray's locker.

"You passed Mickey tonight, you know?" is all I said. His response was, "I know how important that is in New York. I'll be here."

All the notebooks returned 10 minutes later, and we couldn't mute Murray, not that we tried. He was proud and insightful. He got it. He celebrated Mantle and seemingly enjoyed doing so. His words enhanced an angle and made for a good story. We thanked him.

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I'm not comfortable taking a shot at A-Rod. My sense is that he has been needlessly put upon too often in his time with the Yankees. He's an extraordinary baseball player. Just check his RBI total. Reporters who know him better than I have suggested the possibility that A-Rod needed to find the proper words before he spoke them to the media, i.e., the public. Maybe, because he has been so scrutinized, he's gun shy. Maybe he was working on the right thing to say Monday night between his DH at-bats at the Stadium.

But he tipped his cap to Mays on Tuesday. And he'll get his chance to make full amends, maybe this year. He trails the great Willie Mays by 27 career home runs. Twenty-seven and counting.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.