Rooting for A-Rod

You know who you are.

You’re recognizable in a frenzied crowd because you’re the only one not cheering. You hate all things trite. You cringe when a stranger says “Have a good one.”

Were you of a different age, you’d have condemned HUAC, rooted for the Loyalists, and cheered Muhammad Ali when he refused to step forward for induction. You’re the dopey kid who came to Will Kane’s aid in “High Noon” when the whole town had deserted him. You’re against mob rule. You can’t resist an underdog.

You’re A-Rod fan.

Following six weeks of public revilement which would have caused other national disgraces (Tonya Harding, Steve Bartman, OJ Simpson, to name a few) to run for cover, Alex Rodriguez has been unwavering. You are impressed by his steadfastness and calm under pressure. You know that under similar circumstances, you would crumble like a Ritz cracker. You don’t like Bud Selig, and you can’t help feeling that he is attempting to destroy A-Rod’s career for the purpose of burnishing his legacy.

You’re A-Rod fan

You don’t like that A-Rod was singled out for punishment far beyond the fifty-game suspensions levied on eleven other similarly-situated players, and you’re turned off by the faux praise lobbed at Ryan Braun by MLB brass when he copped an early plea to a 65-game suspension. You think that whiners like John Lackey who “wants back” a home run he surrendered to A-Rod ten years ago are hypocrites because they played with other admitted steroid users. And why should players be upset about A-Rod for exercising the appeal rights available to all players under the Joint Drug Agreement?

You can’t help thinking that MLB is trying to discredit A-Rod by the systematic leaking of information suggesting that he interfered with MLB’s investigation of the Biogenesis clinic and divulged information about other alleged users to the press. These events, if true, occurred several months ago during a bidding war between MLB and A-Rod for Biogenesis evidence. Leave it to the arbitrator, you say, to decide whether such activities warrant extra punishment. Despite MLB’s holier than thou stance, you know that this is not obstruction of justice, that this is not a criminal investigation.

You’re A-Rod fan

And you’re appalled that Rod is being targeted by other pitchers with beanballs, and that fans are cheering when he gets hit. It happened in Chicago last week; and last night, Ryan Dempster hurled four consecutive pitches at A-Rod before nailing him in the back as Boston fans exploded with glee. You thought Dempster should have been tossed, but it turned out for the best when A-Rod turned on the pathetic Dempster two at bats later and smashed his weak serving on a line over the centerfield bleachers, spurring an important victory.

You’re A-Rod fan.

If you are a Yankee fan, then you never abandoned A-Rod in the first place, because team fandom trumps the peccadillos of any particular player. A-Rod’s return from a season-long injury has already sparked the Yankees to improved play over his first twelve games. If he can somehow lead them into the playoffs, his pitfalls with PED’s will be a mere footnote to the Yankees’ most remarkable comeback since 1978.

You’re Yankee fan and A-Rod fan.

You’re isolated because the powers that be are aligned against the beleaguered slugger; and everyone you talk to thinks A-Rod is a sleaze and should have the book thrown at him. But you sense that subtly, gradually, public opinion is shifting in A-Rod’s favor. The bombastic Steven A. Smith praised A-Rod’s “intestinal fortitude.” You can’t help but appreciate his focus under tremendous pressure, noted another commentator. His inspired performance last night may well mark a turning point for the Yankees and for A-Rod’s reputation, said Mark Schlereth of ESPN. Even those who detest A-Rod must be saying to themselves, “That guy sure can compartmentalize.”

Dempster plunks A-Rod.

In the build-up to A-Rod’s suspension, few came to his defense. Not even the Yankee front office offered support. Following a public dispute with A-Rod over whether he was ready to come back from injury, Yankee GM Brian Cashman told him to “shut the fuck up.” Later, the Yankees extended A-Rod’s re-hab past the point when his suspension was likely to be announced. Several talk show hosts predicted he would never again play for the Yankees. Even the Yankees’ beat writer for the New York Times, Tyler Kepner, lashed out at Rodriguez’ poor character and weak-mindedness.

And the rift between team and player will only get deeper now that A-Rod’s new counsel, brash celebrity lawyer Joseph Tacopina, has accused the Yankees of “running an invalid” onto the field last fall with knowledge of A-Rod’s hip injury. He will recommend , he said, that A-Rod agree to “not one inning of suspension.” With the revelation that Rodriguez is planning to file a grievance against the Yankees based on faulty medical treatment, Cashman fired back that A-Rod was a liar because he had previously told him (Cashman) that the Yankee doctors were fine. Rodriguez’ camp appears to be laying the foundation for a lawsuit against MLB and the Yankees alleging a conspiracy to ruin A-Rod’s career. Relations between team and player could not be worse.

Has any athlete felt such combined heat from Team, League and Public while still competing? Lance Armstrong was retired when his world came undone. And when has a team so publicly trashed its own player? Not since George Steinbreener hired gambler Howard Spira to gather dirt against Dave Winfield in the 80′s have the Yankees so turned on one of their own. And that was in secret.

It’s been said that some star athletes feel empowered when playing in a hostile environment. If so, can you imagine how pumped A-Rod gets going up against the World? Against this backdrop of hostility, A-Rod is playing well and he’s galvanized the Yanks into playing better. The team as a whole is hitting 60 points above its team average since A-Rod’s return August 5th.

Of course, it’s the magnitude of A-Rod’s contract which puts the Yanks in a quandary. If they cut him, they eat 86 million over four years. And they can’t trade him. At this point, it’s hard to know what they want. Do they wish A-Rod to recover his lost magic and be a productive player for the balance of his contract, or would they prefer that the arbitrator uphold the 211- game suspension and free them from liability for that period? As the tension between team and player continues to heat up, it appears that they are opting for the latter result.

Yes, A-Rod has made problems for himself by lying about his steroid use on national television, and by being unmindful of the impact of his conduct on his image. By allowing himself to be photographed kissing himself in the mirror, by sunbathing naked in Central Park, by slipping his phone number to an attractive blonde while on the bench during last year’s playoffs, and by a host of other tone-deaf acts, he has left the indelible perception that he is selfish, narcissistic, and self-absorbed.

All of that may be true. But that does not equate to making him the poster boy for steroid use.

While his legal team mounts open challenges to MLB and the Yankees, A-Rod sticks to his mantra: “My focus is on playing well and winning games.” If he continues to translate that theme into results on the field, he will mount his best case. Five weeks from now, if A-Rod is batting 320, with ten home runs, and 30 rbi’s, and the Yanks are in the thick of the wild card race, then he will have done more for his cause than all the posturing by his lawyers. Even the skeptical public will come to appreciate his grace under pressure. When and if that happens, the stage will be set for a negotiated reduced suspension, say 60 games, that A-Rod can accept.

Until then, A-Rod fan will watch every game, savor every at-bat, and yearn for heroic acts.

Here’s rooting for you, A-Rod.


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One Response to “Rooting for A-Rod”

  1. Ron Callaghan Says:

    Mike,

    Another carefully considered, thought provoking and well written column.

    I am a Yankee fan and will always be one, but I cannot consider myself an A-Rod fan. That exact question was put to me at a wedding last weekend, and I had to admit that I was not. The first reason is that I think he’s a dope who can’t see beyond the mirror. No intelligent person would do or say the things that he has over the course of his career if had even a few brain cells to rub together. A-Rod is his own biggest fan. He always comes first, not the team, which brings me to my second reason.

    He has placed his teammates in the untenable position of playing with him while he is trashing their field boss, management bosses and entire corporation. Yes, I would like to see him hit .320 and lead the Yanks to the post-season, but I’d rather see them do it with Youkilis, Nix or David Adams at third.

    The bottom line is that A-Rod is a self-serving liar and egotist, and I have a hard time rooting for a person like that, even if his main opponent is the slimy, deceiving, smarmy Bud Selig. The truth is I can’t root for either of them.

    RSC

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