By Jason Keidel
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He’s devolved from baseball monolith to solemn metaphor.
Alex Rodriguez is like that stranger in a frontier town, swinging the saloon doors open for the first time, scanning the room for something or someone familiar, only to be met with scowls and empty gazes.
At some point, A-Rod will stroll into spring training and not see one friendly face, none of the monument park luminaries with whom he used to play, not one reminder of the time when he was the biggest and most productive star in the sport. Or when he was so beloved.
Along with his vanity, allergy to the truth, and documented malfeasance, A-Rod must be the loneliest man in sports.
Throw in the morbid reality that he’s not assured a spot on the field and will likely be relegated to the part-time role of designated hitter — a way station for aging players with bloated contracts — and A-Rod is looking at a most somber path to retirement.
We always enjoyed him for the split-screen reality of his life, wondering how long he could stay calm into the storm of his off-field dalliances and still produce. His appetites have always been epic, as are his conflicting impulses to be a great player and role model while breaking every rule to be both.
But he could always hide on the field, next to Jeter, behind a home run. The wall of his sprawling stats kept some of the sharks at bay. But now, with Brian Cashman asserting that A-Rod doesn’t have third base — or any base — waiting for him when he returns from his suspension, he has to adjust to his new life as a second-tier player.
Now every time he steps into the batter’s box, A-Rod will be a glowing specimen in the fishbowl of supreme scrutiny, under the white-hot lights of Americas media vortex, each swing a slow chronicle of the aging icon in repose.
We understand, in the abstract, that great players age, decay, and die. And instead of lamenting their decline, we laud their deeds. We dwell in their youth, their prime, the singular moments in a stellar career. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were showered with so many farewell doodads it became quite superfluous, if not embarrassing.
But how do we address ourselves to the inelegant return and retirement of Alex Rodriguez? The only reason the Yankees have him on their roster is because they must, because they signed him to an absurd contract with no competitors close to matching the money. Even the circumstances surrounding the signing were appalling, with Scott Boras declaring, during a World Series, that his most prized client was opting out of his already historically generous deal. The Yankees aren’t welcoming him back as much as tolerating his return.
There’s no mea culpa that matches his endless malfeasance. A-Rod denied taking PEDs many times and lied every time. He shot equine potions into his tan tush that would make Seabiscuit blush. The paper and testimonial trail of his transgressions is longer than his most colossal home run. He’s been shamed into silence, relegated to cowering behind lawyers and liars. Whatever public currency he had has been spent. He may find some faint applause from his most ardent and jaded supporters, but even they have exhausted all the excuses for his inexcusable behavior.
One of my first sports memories was watching Jackie Smith drop a ball in Super Bowl XIII. It was a perfect pass from Roger Staubach that hit Smith in the belly, in the end zone, with over 100 million Americans watching. It would have tied the game and given the Cowboys a chance to beat my beloved Steelers.
Verne Lundquist instantly said, “Bless his heart. He must be the sickest man in America.”
Imagine how that feels.
Imagine how A-Rod feels.
You can decide if he’s the sickest man in America, or the most sickening.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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