By John Schmeelk
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On Thursday night I sat at the Yankees game and watched as every fan in the stands stood up and cheered when Alex Rodriguez walked to the plate with a chance to get to 3,000 hits.
After he was walked on four pitches, fans booed Marlins pitcher San Dyson mercilessly as though he robbed them of some great historical Yankee moment. They booed him just as loud as they used to boo A-Rod with regularity. They were acting like Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera was being robbed of a career milestone.
I sat there with my arms folded, marveling at how much Yankees fans’ opinion of Rodriguez had changed in just a few years.
It wasn’t long ago that Rodriguez was a pariah at the stadium for his failiures to get the big hit and perform in the postseason. He was booed whenever he made out with runners in scoring position, or in any situation in the playoffs. Much of it was actually unfair. A lot of that changed, and rightfully so, after his tremendous 2009 postseason.
But the love for Rodriguez never reached the level of any off the homegrown Yankees responsible for so many championships over the last 20 years. He was still an untrusted hired mercenary that no one fully embraced.
Yet, somehow, all of that changed right before my eyes on Thursday night. But why? I wish I was a psychologist because I’m sure there is some real scientific explanation for it. As a sports fan and layman, besides some twisted sports fan version of Stockholm Syndrome, I have no explanation for it. Rodriguez has become MORE loved, and has almost transformed into a Yankee hero since he waged one of the more embarrassingly phony public fights to protect his cheating name that I’ve ever seen.
Here is what Rodriguez did:
* He used performance-enhancing drugs repeatedly (and for a second time) in an effort to cheat the game
* He lied about it to investigators, the Yankees, and fans again and again. He went on WFAN and swore up and down to Mike Francesca that he didn’t take anything
* He sued the Yankees for apparently letting him play with a bad hip that threatened the longevity of his career
* He sued Major League Baseball
* He actively obstructed the investigation into his PED usage.
All the old PED excuses don’t apply to A-Rod. Unlike Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, PED’s were very much illegal when Rodriguez used them. Everyone else isn’t using them now. It isn’t all over baseball and glossed over by the media and everyone else. (I’ll leave the argument as to whether this was actually ever true for a different time) He had already been caught once, apologized and swore he wouldn’t do it again. He lied and did it, again.
I understand Yankees fans rooting for Rodriguez to do well from a team perspective. When there are runners on base, fans should want him to get a hit, for it helps the team win games. It helps the uniform. I might not like it, but I do it, too. I’m a season ticket holder and it’s part of the deal. You root for the uniform no matter who wears it. It is part of being a fan, for better or worse.
But getting 3,000 hits isn’t a Yankees accomplishment. It doesn’t help the team. It is a solely individual accomplishment that would very likely not be possible if it wasn’t for his rampant and constant use of PEDs during the course of his career. It is the celebration of the man and his career achievements.
Why should that be celebrated? The accomplishment is meaningless because of his steroid use and his career is forever stained by his cheating.
He was being celebrated like Jeter and Rivera, who did everything the right way. Isn’t that why Yankee fans loved those two players so much? They did it with class and dignity. They were men of the highest character.
This is the complete opposite of that. Rodriguez has proven he is of the lowest character. This treatment of Rodriguez’s accomplishments is putting him in their class. In a way, fans are tarnishing the legacies of two great Yankees by treating Rodriguez like a conquering hero. Is that what fans want, to elevate someone like Rodriguez to the level of Jeter and Rivera? I sure hope not.
I get that people love a redemption story. Man screws up, apologizes, reforms himself, and does well. I’m all for giving someone a second chance. But A-Rod already had his second chance after getting busted the first time. He blew it. After promising he would not do it again in the future, he cheated AGAIN. And then after he got caught, he denied it. He wasn’t contrite. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t beg for forgiveness. Instead, he threw the equivalent of a child’s tantrum, suing everyone in sight. He still hasn’t ever admitted he used anything illegal because he doesn’t want to get sued.
Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, he swore up and down he didn’t cheat. He lied to everyone. He took Yankees fans for fools, and lied to their faces time and time again. He showed no respect for them or the uniform. He sued Yankees fans’ favorite team. He literally went to war legally with the Yankees. He sent Joe Tacopina around grandstanding like he was some kind of victim, when he was in fact a serial cheater and liar that deserved no one’s sympathy.
What happened in the end, when the lawsuits were finally going to go to court? Rodriguez dropped them all because he knew he was guilty, and the evidence proved it. He called the troops back to base in his little legal war because it was a battle he couldn’t win and he knew it. He tucked his tail between his legs and went home. He made all the people that defended him look like fools.
I don’t understand how more Yankees fans, especially the fans that stood up for him, are not more personally insulted by what he did, and how he treated them and the Yankees organization after getting caught. Doesn’t getting lied to constantly bother you? He took you for granted. How can you believe he has actually learned from this second mistake and is a different person? How can you buy it when he has lied so convincingly before so many times?
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me.
Rodriguez’s behemoth contract, which is still constraining the Yankees spending, was obtained on fraudulent achievements. If the Yankees had known he was a PED user before he opted out of his contract, they never would have given him that extension (and shouldn’t have anyway, thanks Hank Steinbrenner). He, if not legally, then in principal, defrauded the Yankees. It has hurt the team and their chances of winning. I don’t understand why Yankees fans don’t care about that.
I get winning and production in sports solves all problems. I do. We’ve seen it a thousand times. He does well, and you love him because he helps the team win. Cool. But this goes beyond that. This is celebrating a statistical achievement that was a product of cheating. It is a meaningless number. He won’t be in the Hall of Fame. It’s a fraud, just like the man.
You don’t have to boo him every time he steps to the plate. He plays for your team. I get that. Cheer when he does well to help the team, but don’t cheer this. Don’t celebrate the pursuit of 3,000 like it matters because it doesn’t. Don’t make him feel like everything he has done in the past is okay. Don’t treat him like some kind of conquering hero. He’s not that. Rodriguez hasn’t done anything to earn that. Cheer Ichiro when he gets to 3,000 hits because he got there the right way.
I ask Yankees fans to think back to what they thought of San Francisco Giants fans as they cheered Barry Bonds with virtual blindfolds over their eyes. Think of how ridiculous Cardinals fans looked as they bought into McGwire’s claim of innocence. Don’t be like those fans. Everyone else around baseball is laughing at you.
Yankees fans like to think their organizations stands for a level of class, respect, and the Yankee way. Doing things the right way, like Jeter and Rivera did, mattered. Or maybe that’s the deal now. Maybe doing things honestly and the right way just doesn’t matter to people. Maybe society has degenerated that much.
Be better than that. I beg you. Please. Don’t do that. Don’t make the fan base look like a laughing stock in the eyes of the nation. Because right now, that’s exactly what you are.
For everything New York sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk