By Jason Keidel
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It feels like eons ago, but there was a time when A-Rod was actually liked. He was the kid with a man’s frame and a pro’s game. A freak, in the stellar sense of the word. And his gaffes were garden variety, the baptism of manhood, and mostly the province of Paparazzi.
Sunning in Central Park isn’t a felony. Neither is kissing your reflection in a major magazine spread. Neither is playing poker with Spider Man and Leonardo DiCaprio. Neither is telling Esquire that your BFF at the time, Derek Jeter, is essentially overrated.
We could forgive his frat-boy proclivities. He was the one who would bring clean veins to the game, inject fresh blood into the record books synthesized by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Justice would prevail.
Then A-Rod got serious about his malfeasance. And now, while we wait for the corporate guillotine to fall upon the polarizing slugger, we wonder what happened to A-Rod, once the most promising player in decades.
Sometime during the 1990s, our athletic heroes seemed to devolve. A new breed of bad boy came upon us, and even if their sins were similar, they no longer hid them.
McGwire flaunted his Andro from road lockers like a Gideon Bible. Roger Clemens glared at Red Sox brass when he returned to Fenway as a Blue Jay and dominated his former team. Sosa cracked a corked bat and no one blinked. Rafael Palmeiro lectured congress while tainted “Vitamin B” shots oozed through his veins.
Then they literally got larger, casting a longer shadow. They became chemists, cheaters, junkies, using their buttocks as pincushions. A-Rod, like his PED ancestors, ate too long at the buffet of celebrity. Maybe it was inevitable. Maybe he just got greedy.
At some point, an already transcendent talent decided great wasn’t enough. He took steroids. Then he lied about it. Then he admitted it. Then he (allegedly!) lied about it. Now he may have to admit some more.
The cover-up is still often worse than the crime. The cops caught up to Ryan Braun, whose soapbox sermon last year has become the stuff of epic disgrace. But Braun, however talented, is just a freckle on A-Rod’s back.
A-Rod has been bigger than baseball. His fall from the heavens is about a lot more than a urine test or affiliations with illegal laboratories. He is a symbol. And depending on the report you read, he may have lured other players to Tony Bosch, and perhaps interfered with MLB’s investigation into the lab. To let him slide is to implicitly say that cheating is rewarded at the highest level of the sport. MLB must make an example of him.
And A-Rod is not only NOT the guy who will break all the essential records cleanly. He’s also seen as one of the last relics of the rampant PED epoch, a Wild West of unabashed abuse, bathroom stalls swinging open like saloon doors, where behemoths injected each other with impunity.
“But there are dozens of people on that list!” you say. “A-Rod is just one of them. Why just pick on him?”
Because he makes the most money, is the most accomplished and isn’t new to this steroid thing. “Star treatment” cuts both ways. You don’t just get courtside seats, limos and groupies. You also get the finger from the masses on your way down. Is it entirely fair? No. But neither is being able to fly in Learjets while you brood over the Help Wanted section every Sunday.
Many of you don’t remember what baseball was like before steroids. You see the blurry footage, hear Keith Jackson’s country cadence, laugh at the tight uniforms and outsized Afros and handlebar mustaches. But there was a time when baseball players didn’t look like linebackers.
Like Jeter, who hit a homer on his first pitch back. As always, he stands in eternal relief against A-Rod. Former best friends, now de facto foes after A-Rod’s legendary case of foot-in-mouth spasm in Esquire. Even when the Yankees acquired the disgraced third baseman, before he became a villain, when he was far and away the best player in the American League, Jeter’s frigid refrain stood out like a syringe.
Jeter always seems to be on the right side of things, even if he’s not. A-Rod, blessed with more money and more talent, will never get a fraction of Jeter’s traction. The media, fans and his peers will always fawn over No. 2. Fittingly, A-Rod wears No. 13 in New York, where his stay has been anything but lucky.
Feel free to email me at Jakster0529@gmail.com.
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