As we hurdle each decade, we are coddled into thinking that the numbers don’t mean what they say. “Forty is the new thirty,” we are told. In truth, those of us born the year man walked the moon and worshipped the man who perfected the moonwalk, are at halftime.
We learned a bit too much about Michael Jackson to keep him in those pristine canals of our imagination, and the same has occurred with the current generation and Alex Rodriguez.
He knocks the seam off the baseball and the binder off the record book. And very few people are happy for him.
So when A-Rod smacked his 600th homer, your inner adjuster told you that 600 is the new 400. And you have every right to feel that way. With the confluence of shrinking parks, noodle-armed pitchers, and needle-wielding sluggers, what other conclusion is there?
Physically perfect and perfectly gifted, he’s the player you watch while your wife drools at the man in pinstripes that are supposed to sag but cannot when he stuffs his muscles into them. So it must be, from the male perspective, a quintessential case of player hatred. Right?
After McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds turned baseball into an episode of WWE Smackdown, Alex Rodriquez involuntarily but instantly entered the thorny portal of savior. And he let us down. The betrayal with Rodriguez cuts deeply and eternally. Even when the wound heals, the scars sprout scabs, and we pick at them and at him. It is his burden.
Cut him some slack, you say. Why? You’re making 30 grand doing something you loathe while he makes $30 million doing something he loves. As George Young told Mike Francesa and Mike Francesa told me: when they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.
It’s also about representation. A-Rod doesn’t stand for anything profound. We knew that 660, 714, and 755 were not just numbers but also men and emblems. They were the product of long balls swatted in chasmal parks before the chemists cursed the game. Mays has the catch, spin, and chuck in 1951. Ruth has the predicted shot at Wrigley in 1932. Aaron has that jog around the bases with strangers chasing him after too many strangers threatened him.
What’s A-Rod’s singular baseball moment? It’s hard to think of one.
Stop messing with him, you say. Why? You say I’m being the media metaphor: a shark. Fine. But A-Rod slashed his femoral artery and dove in the ocean on his own. The stoic who plays chess outdoors with a cigar jutting from his jaw will tell you that if you enter enough barbershops you’re bound to get a haircut.
New Yorkers are a dichotomous bunch – fully emotional yet with obdurate souls who measure success solely in championships. Lombardi told us winning was the only thing. He got that from the Bronx Bombers and the first thing he told his Packers when hired as head coach was that they would be the New York Yankees of football. Win.
But even winning has a price. In New York’s case, that price is the third baseman. Despite having the dimensions of beauty, he is somehow ugly. After he shreds the final pages of the record book he will bank upward of a billion dollars, and we will have one cheater (Bonds) replaced by another as synthetic home run king. How refreshing.
Does anyone really believe Rodriguez started or ended his cheating in Texas? His crafted mea culpa provided vague names of hard drugs and abstract cousins who supplied them. Like Tony Montana, he wants us to think that even when he lies, he tells the truth. Also, like Scarface, he was busted with his face buried in baseball dope.
I will assuredly be choked with biblical bromides about forgiveness. Frankly, I’m not so divine, and neither is Alex Rodriguez.
He’s the one who bent the rules until they snapped. He’s the one who flew a stripper around the nation like a suitcase while he was married. He chased Madonna. He announced (via Scott Boras) during a World Series that he was bolting from the richest contract in baseball history. He kissed himself in the mirror for Esquire.
No. 13 is on his back. He tries so hard to tell you he’s flawless that he brandishes the number that represents the bottomless, karmic chasm he’s trying to fill and still produces prodigious stats.
Does any of this make him evil? No. Does it make him irrevocably flawed and entirely unsympathetic? Yes.
This has nothing to do with the endless, “True Yankee” banter. The argument became moot when the Yankees won the 2009 World Series on the backs of $250 million in mercenaries. The Chore Four, though still formidable, got by with a lot of help from their pricey friends.
He runs very well on his feet, but rarely thinks on them. That isn’t to say he’s unintelligent, but he’s much like that surfer dude you wish would just surf and let us project the inaccurate spiritual qualities. Indeed, A-Rod has adopted a Joe Girardi affectation – nodding several times after responding to a question – as if to assure you that he’s given the proper answer. In A-Rod’s case, it looks more like a nervous tic.
Like his recently deceased boss, George Steinbrenner, the post mortem is always graphic, a bombing or a ballad. Like his boss, A-Rod is either appealing or appalling. Like his boss, A-Rod is both Like his boss, he is like us.
And perhaps that’s the problem. You want Alex Rodriguez to Superman and Clark Kent. He is neither.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com