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It was Nas who once said, “It’s a dirty game, is any man worthy of fame?” You could argue whether or not Nas has ever lived up to the amazing level of potential he exhibited on “Illmatic”, [I kind of want to forget the Escobar era myself] but the brilliance of that line could never be disputed. It is a dirty game. And is any flawed human being really worthy of fame?
Society relishes the defilement of plastic deities. After all, the mob has to feel power over something. Everything else is beyond us… war… the economy… poverty… bailouts… Indignation flies, but it’s fake, and if legitimate, certainly misguided. Flaming pitchforks. Adulation turns poisonous at a moment’s notice. Fame is equal parts a blessing or a burden. It’s complicated, everything is, and we wish it weren’t. So we exercise our defenses, simplify and attack. When the fairy tale doesn’t offer a happy ending, the book is torn to shreds. We find something new to dream on…
I always thought Alex Rodriguez received a raw deal from Yankee fans. I defended him, rebutted those who wished to discredit his accomplishments on the basis of his post-season failings. I’d remind them about the 2004 Division Series, his enormous double against a tiring Joe Nathan in extra innings of game 2, how he practically defeated a hungry Minnesota Twins team all by himself. I’d remind them that Alex Rodriguez wasn’t alone falling apart in the round thereafter. Our third-baseman had delivered in October before, numerous times. Had a huge ALCS against the Yankees back in 2000… and my voice eventually trails off, I grow tired of repeating myself, over and over again…
Alex Rodriguez, the baseball player, is an artist. But he isn’t contemplative and calm, more frenzied and tortured. Rodriguez probably identifies with the former, but he is definitely the latter, staggering away clumsily from a flying bat shard. His work is raw, devoid of subtlety or smoothness. He doesn’t have the sinewy composition of Ken Griffey Jr., or the impossibly sweet swing. Rodriguez doesn’t appear cool out there, and despite his prestigious talent, he’s the furthest from a glider. A-Rod could never glide. To these set of eyes, the game is almost never easy for him, except at certain sweet spots. He swings and misses at a slider off the plate and nods his head, up and down, eyes searching, chewing a piece of gum and betraying obvious nervousness. He’s vulnerable, prone to failure and looking the part. Joe DiMaggio was elegant striking out. Rodriguez can appear awkward on a home run swing. Honest. Once, against the Red Sox, he absolutely obliterated a Tim Wakefield knuckleball, a moon shot. He departed the batter’s box, looking skyward, craning his neck, confused, thinking his blast a harmless can of corn. He couldn’t find the ball. The Red Sox were furious, or at least Doug Mirabelli was, ripping Rodriguez for showing up the pitcher. Incidents like this cemented A-Rod as my favorite player. He’s truly unique, a Superstar who could screw up a home run trot. But make no mistake. When he guesses right on an outside slider, sits back, and annihilates a hanger into the right-center field bleachers, he is momentary perfection personified. The invincibility is temporary, vulnerability always lurking… those awful strikeouts when he guesses wrong, looking lost while maintaining a serene façade…
Rodriguez carried Yankee teams to the playoffs in 2005 and 2007, winning the league’s Most Valuable Player in both seasons, receiving little due from those who scapegoat him. These are people who believe Scott Brosius possessed some priceless, intangible quality that led to his team’s winning, instead of analyzing roster composition and realizing… sigh… Logic doesn’t apply in the sporting world. There are so many crazy bounces and chance occurrences that we seek legend instead of sensibility. Somebody has to take the fall. If a player isn’t available, the mythic can substitute. Sports-writers talk about soul, guts, and heart, and it’s fine black magic, getting the herd to believe. The Yankees have never been cursed, except with occasional stupidity. When they don’t win these days, it’s not because Jaret Wright was the game four starter, no, that’s too simple for a newspaper. Columnists connect these failing to a dearth of “heart”, whatever the hell that word even means when applied outside medical school. Ah, yes they could buy a team, but they couldn’t buy a “soul”… Please… in 2004 maybe they should have bought a better starting rotation. In 2005, maybe they should have bought some defense, because that outfit was historically abysmal in the field, and the play that ultimately ruined their season was a deep fly ball that should have been caught. In 2006, they should have bought a better manager, because Joe Torre’s decisions in the Division Series were atrocious. Jason Giambi sat against a right-handed pitcher and played against a lefty. Gary Sheffield was benched against the lefty and played against a right-hander. The team’s best player was slotted eighth in a decisive game; Sheffield later said it demoralized the club. Food for thought… in every postseason series they have played since 2003, the Yankees possessed an inferior pitching staff when measured against their competition. The Twins and Red Sox had better pitching in 2004. Los Angeles had better pitching in 2005. The Tigers had more depth in 2006. The Indians were definitely better in 2007. But no… it’s acceptable for some bizarre reason to blame it on Angels in the Outfield.
So, what now? Alex Rodriguez tested positive, his confidential test, which was supposed to be destroyed, leaked. He came clean about his steroid use, though the confession itself could be a lie. [Sounds like a foreboding Dylan lyric] The knee jerk crowd is vindicated by glorified hacks pulling their puppet strings. And we get shrill wailing regarding the purity of the game, like players in the 60’s and 70’s weren’t totally jacked on amphetamines, like Tom House never said there were performance-enhancing drugs in baseball dating back to the embryo days of disco. Drift away on those articles, sleeping soundly… A-Rod to jail… A-Rod released… A-Rod burning down an orphanage via a flaming baseball launcher… A-Rod on the grassy knoll… A-Rod driving the Exxon Valdez… This nonsense isn’t right. Neither is he.
Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be the one to break Bonds’ record and return baseball to candy-land. He wasn’t perfect, but he was good enough for the easiest story to be written. The press box has been denied this narrative, and, forced to think, many have lashed out. Fine. That is their right. But their simplistic way of thinking contributed to the creation of the culture now sullying baseball, and their simplistic reaction to the succeeding events only strengthens the darkness they profess to despise. Would you believe it, back in 2005, there were actually articles proclaiming that the steroids era was over and that little ball was back? I kid you not. Jason Giambi, oh so hilariously shrunken on a Sports Illustrated cover, was just another symbol [they love those] for a bygone era. An article suggested that the combination of steroids testing and rising young pitching made the game more receptive to the talents of speedsters like Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre. We had evolved beyond Jason Giambi. After a slow start, Giambi wound up crushing 32 home runs that very season, and casual baseball fans collectively just asked themselves who the hell Scott Podsednik is?
Some of these scribes simply find the truth too horrifying to bear. They want Bud Selig to wave a magical Dodger Dog and make everything okay. They won’t be able to glorify Alex Rodriguez. It all isn’t going to end happily ever after. This is why Hamsterdam didn’t turn Baltimore around. Because the world is messed up place, and although simple ideas are often best, they don’t translate well to reality. We must take the next step, think realistically, reassess, and have an opinion that stands up to the insanity running this world we live in. Because Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs aren’t stopping players from taking performance drugs, and neither would have a clean home run record. Instead of telling your kids a happy ending, tell them to pay close attention, because life is complicated, and Charles Barkley is not a role model.
Alex Rodriguez remains my favorite player. I appreciate the effect an environment can have on the individual. He was on a team with a bunch of juiced up freaks in Texas, hey, duly noted. But he’s still wrong, a cheater. I’ve read a few pieces pondering whether the effect of steroids on player performance is, in fact, negligible. I just think of Barry Bonds, the Super Shredder version, driving painted heat into the left field seats, syringe shots if I ever saw them, probably warning track outs without the comic book bulk. The drugs help. This is why they are used.
Oscar Wilde said one should separate the artist from his art. Alex Rodriguez, the player, will always be fun for me to watch. I have more in my life to worry about than the moral conundrums presented by Major League Baseball. We all do. Am I upset he took steroids? Yes. But like Tom Glavine, I’ll save devastation for greater things.
While explaining why exactly he used steroids during his time with the Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez went through the litany, at one time citing a ‘loosey-goosey’ baseball culture. Here he was, in an interview that would determine his credibility for perhaps the rest of his career, serious business to be sure, and he wasn’t joking in the least.
Did he just say loosey-goosey?
Of course he did.