By Jason Keidel
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Hey, you.

Come here.

A little closer…


Now listen with eager ears.

Alex Rodriguez is not Pablo Escobar because he plays a little poker on the side. No doubt I feast on malfeasance for a living, but a man playing a game that’s illegal only because it didn’t occur in a casino is hardly a crime wave.

And those who see A-Rod’s gambling habit (and don’t wear a habit themselves) need to look inside themselves and not use contrived crimes as a funnel for more questionable conduct. And ask yourself where you were when Michael Jordan dropped millions at the craps table, or when he was bilked by golf pros who preyed on MJ’s legendary allergy for losing and lust for competition in all forms.

You use Page Six fodder to fuel your A-Rod rage. Any perceived misconduct is a pretext to pummel the lucky man who wears the unlucky number (13). Maybe he’s even unluckier in love and five-card draw. What do we care?

This slope slides us into salty, societal waters. It becomes tempting to use an athlete’s legal transgression to question the wisdom of the law he broke You wonder why prostitution, drinking, and gambling were illegal at various points and places in America. But this ignorant sportswriter will not go there.

And you’re placing me a most incongruous position – defending Alex Rodriguez. Lord knows there are myriad reasons to root against him on and off the field. He spent the bulk of his career concerned only with his numbers, not his winning percentage. He dates supermodels and superstars and then becomes indignant when TMZ takes a picture of popcorn pinched into his mouth by a famous actress – at the Super Bowl!

He chose to shoot his tan tush with equine potions that would make Seabiscuit blush. He made the remarks about Derek Jeter to Esquire. He rips off his shirt and suns in Central Park for the paparazzi to ponder. He opted out of his contract during a World Series not involving his team, wrenching the spotlight from the Fall Classic, and, finally, he flew a stripper across the country while his wife cared for his kids His trysts and turns are amply archived. And yes, MLB has warned him about playing these high-stakes games because of the elements hosting them and what they attract. We said he’s beautiful, not brilliant.

Not sure why MLB is so worried about any poker game, as long as Alex didn’t snort a sandwich bag of cocaine, which is apparently prevalent at some of these games. Didn’t the mob run Las Vegas for about four decades? They aren’t worried about the “elements” that a casino attracts, from hookers to drug dealers to game fixers? This is all so confusing and contradictory.

But A-Rod’s faux pas are foolish, not felonious. Some of the hatred just has to be displaced envy. Superficially, he has the bona fides of success. He’s handsome, somewhat savvy, and athletically divine, his whole body fitted for a baseball diamond. So what’s the beef? Is it just that you want to be like him and hate that you can’t? Please help me understand.

For the more reserved detractors, those who dislike A-Rod for reasonable reasons, you’re not popping the Crystal or guzzling the Haterade today. When you root for or against something or someone and keep it in context, your celebrations are more muted. There’s absolutely no reason I can think of for a sane person to cheer an investigation into a game of cards. Speaking as a man, I’m unaware of any man who hasn’t played an illegal card game, if the definition is any game played for cash money without the state sanctioning it and hence extracting its own vigorish. You’re technically breaking the law when you play king of the cubicles every March for money, when you apply your algorithms to the NCAA brackets.

Speaking of cards, I’ve seen some disgusting posturing form the A-Rod apologists, dealing from a bottomless deck of race cards, declaring that MLB hunts Hispanic players. Gibberish. This is the game of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, two heroes who endured rampant racism so that A-Rod needn’t. There’s no doubt A-Rod gets more than his share of the glare, but he brings much of the heat upon himself.

Maybe Lady Gaga can sing “Poker Face” before A-Rod’s next plate appearance, while Suzyn “Oh, My Goodness!” Waldman can wax poetic and offer a slobbering montage of A-Rod’s greatest moments. And then we can call it a day.

Alex Rodriguez plays third base, also coined the hot corner, a fitting metaphor for a man always in scalding public waters. Cheer or jeer him as you like, but don’t bet on this goose chase. Pun intended, fun defended.

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Is A-Rod’s poker habit a big deal? Leave a comment below.

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