By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
At the risk of public redundancy and personal duplicity, I say…
Give Alex Rodriguez a chance.
A chance to show his face.
A chance to tip his cap to the handful of fans he has left.
A chance to swat a single to win a game.
A chance to help your favorite team.
A chance at nuanced redemption.
It’s a baseball iteration of a shotgun wedding. The Yankees owe A-Rod countless millions and are trying to fit a mangled body into a smooth hole or role on the team. His steroid-addled frame is full of brittle limbs and bruised ego. He’s returning to a team that has none of the support system off the field that nourished him, and none of the icons on the field that shielded him. His very presence in a Yankees uniform is awkward, at best; and an emblem of lost years and betrayal, at the worst.
If you can omit emotion, get your Spock on and see this in a strict scientific sense, A-Rod is merely a player who is trying to play some baseball. His legacy is shredded, burned to the ground, his name and number in embers.
He’s a disgrace. He’s a cheat. He’s a serial liar. He lectured kids on the perils of PEDs while shooting equine potions into his tan tush, cocktails that would make Seabiscuit blush. We know.
So what does one more hit below the belt achieve? Piling on felt fine for a while, but now that A-Rod is just a pile of metaphysical rubble, let him breathe. At least let him try to help the club.
I know. I led the crusade against A-Rod, calling him every printable yet unpleasant noun in the lexicon. But the more fangs we dig into his carcass, the more sympathetic he looks.
A good friend who pens a popular baseball blog (Sully Baseball) recently wrote a fascinating piece, declaring that instead of scolding A-Rod, the Yanks should be thanking him. Despite the mendacity, both parties benefited greatly from A-Rod’s prodigious, steroid-aided stats.
But, as always, it’s not so facile. There’s a distinct difference between A-Rod’s mutually lucrative relationship with the Yankees — who surely knew, or at least had ardent suspicions about his PED use when they first signed him and then re-signed him — and his implicit pact with fans, who had every right to assume he brought clean veins to the game. He lied to the Yanks. But he betrayed the fans.
Any story on A-Rod forks into a two-tiered treatise on sports and social responsibility. He’s a one-time colossus, and was the greatest pure prospect since Mickey Mantle. At 15 he was probably more gifted than 90 percent of the 25-year-olds already in the big leagues.
He could have made it to Cooperstown on natural talent and testosterone, which highlights the tragic irony of his professional and personal life. His manic focus on perfection is what ruined him, entirely unaware that perfection is impossible.
Sympathizers will assert that his childhood mandated his malfeasance. His father wasn’t around. He was flanked by sycophants as a teen. His hypersensitivity has been distilled into a Freudian tract. No male role model is a surefire form of personal agony and anarchy.
But many kids don’t have dads and don’t do steroids. So it’s up to you to decide how much nature and nurture makes up Rodriguez. Like any addict — to drugs, sex, fame, fortune — we can’t know how much of a man’s genes fills his jeans.
We make the silly assumption that a man is happy just by dint of the superficial, that he can stand on his vanity, his 401(k) and adulation, and grin his way to his David Maraniss biography. Or, in A-Rod’s endless narcissism, he’s more befitting a Doris Kearns Goodwin epic.
But not even the most jaded A-Rod apologist can defend him anymore. And the most vitriolic foe can’t summon any more original content, context or criticism. So let’s at least begin the season viewing A-Rod as a rookie, trying to make the club like any other prospect, even if the prospect is rather daunting.
All we’re left with is a man who seemed so close to perfection but was really farther from it than any of us. The entire illusion of success is the entire premise is wrong; the very metric is flawed. Like the lotto winner who’s broke in five years, we assume an extra zero on your bank balance and an extra digit on your RBI total makes you whole.
Whole. How can someone so whole have such a hole in his soul. To paraphrase Verne Lundquist when Jackie Smith dropped that touchdown pass from Roger Staubach in the Super Bowl, bless his heart, he’s gotta be the sickest man in America…
Sickness is relative. And sickness has been A-Rod’s relative for some time now.