By Jason Keidel
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Somewhere in the bowels of his book, Joe Torre recalled a conversation he had with Alex Rodriguez. Reflecting on a lost season, Torre turned to A-Rod for his take on personal and professional failure and what he would do to improve. A-Rod responded only by saying he put up great numbers, implying that therefore the season was a success.
And as we, the masses, muse over the disgraced third baseman, we find it’s a perfect microcosm on A-Rod, who’s had a warped worldview for as long as we can remember. He told us it lasted just a few years in Texas, but it seems it may have lasted his entire adult life.
Rodriguez didn’t invent steroids, or invent ingesting them. He didn’t invent lying about them. He wasn’t the first person busted for doing them. But he is the first to cry foul at the entire apparatus designed to defend him. He bristles at his suspension as some vast MLB and media conspiracy, when in fact his union — by far the strongest in sports, which had held the sport hostage for decades –negotiated the very process that found him guilty.
Which is why his solemn promise to take his face to federal court is specious and pointless. The courts are notoriously averse to adjudicating these arbitrations since they were agreed upon by the accused and the accusor.
Lost on Rodriguez is that the act of cheating is not what got him here — in this legal, moral and social purgatory — but rather his colossal hubris, the idea that if he denies his guilt long enough, someone, something or some supernatural force will finally believe and excuse him.
Also lost on Rodriguez is the pact he implicitly makes with the fans, the holy sporting covenant that not only is what we’re watching real, but that he fails or succeeds by dint of his divine talent.
A-Rod speaks in endless platitudes about his rights and reasonable doubts and facing his accuser, as if he were singled out as a pinata for Bud Selig’s epic sense of sadism.
Yet more than a dozen players were linked to Anthony Bosch and Biogenesis, and none of them fought their suspensions. (Once he was finally and fatally cornered, Ryan Braun waved the white flag.) As with everything A-Rod does, there are endless layers. It’s not just the cheating, but the nauseating denials and arrogance.
Lost on his army of apologists — who, like their hero, is defiant until the end — is that this isn’t about a single drug test or drug use or a cousin in the Caribbean or his cash or his cachet.
This is about A-Rod’s fatal allergy to the truth. Had he gone to MLB after the Biogenesis story broke, offered an authentic mea culpa and left his life in their hands, he would have already served a 50-game suspension and we’d be talking about his ability to hit a baseball in 2014, not whether he will be cut by the Yankees in 2015.
You saw “60 Minutes” on Sunday night and are so quick to smash Bosch and baseball and Selig, always looking over your beloved baller at his accusers, at those who just tell his story, at those who say anything other than exactly what you want to hear.
Instead of stating his case, he ran and hid and camped in Mike Francesa’s studio. Instead of telling the world that he knew and dealt with Bosch, he denied and denied himself into a dark corner and surrounded himself with a conga line of lawyers and millions in legal bills. He is the corporeal cliché: the cover-up is indeed worse than the crime.
This isn’t about Bosch, Biogenesis, “boli”, Selena Roberts or 500 text messages. Every time Rodriguez gets in trouble we run to the perimeter, ready to pounce on the peripheral players, the sidebars, the background, rather than blame the guy who spawned the saga. If you look objectively at everything that has happened to Rodriguez, you’ll find that he not only wrote the narrative, but he extended it beyond comprehension.
We think about great athletes, touched by the deity with that glowing athletic gene — like Ben Wilson in Chicago or Salvador Sanchez in Mexico or Len Bias in Maryland — who were cut tragically short before blessing us with their singular talent.
Instead, Rodriguez committed vocational suicide — several times. He was a man-child before the steroids, before the force of his blinding arrogance consumed him. So maybe he hits 700 homers instead of 800. Maybe he gets 86 percent of the Hall of Fame vote instead of 96 percent.
Nothing was ever enough. We’ve been told that the great ones are different, not only in the physical but the spiritual, that there’s a bottomless hunger — bordering on anger — from their first moments on earth to their last.
But whether it’s Jerry West shooting jumpers in the galling poverty of West Virginia, Muhammad Ali absorbing biblical body shots from George Foreman or Michael Jordan willing to die rather than lose to Magic Johnson in a Dream Team scrimmage, they earned their way onto our walls and into our hearts, despite their deficiencies, because they abided by the same rules as the men they beat.
People far more hardwired into the Yankees than me, from Michael Kay to Buster Olney, have suggested this could be the deathblow to A-Rod’s career, that he has spent his last inning in the most sacred uniform in sports. But does it really matter? Anything he does from now on will be seen as a farce, a fraud perpetrated on the Yankees, baseball, the fans and, mostly, on himself.
Most humans have some spiritual membrane, a line they aren’t willing to cross to get what they want. Sadly, most people aren’t willing to even stretch it, and concede ambition to the material comfort of “enough.” The house and the spouse and station wagon are enough. Very few of us even approach our potential. But we can, at minimum, say we were honest and earnest within our limited reach.
How would we react were we given A-Rod’s gifts? We can’t say with any certainty. But there have been other supremely gifted entertainers who at least understand there’s a beginning and an end to this. After all the faux retirements and comebacks and failures, they eventually surrender to time and its unbending tax on the human body.
Whatever synapse says “stop” never found its way to Rodriguez. Among the myriad malaprops and missteps, from allegedly flying strippers around the world with a wife and kid at home to underground poker games to kissing his reflection in a magazine to saying Derek Jeter isn’t the one you worry about when playing the Yankees, he never knew when to say when.
And that, more than any needle or pill or gummy or cream, is what killed what should have been a dream life.
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