A-fraud. A-roid. Cheater. “Boo-birds” galore.
Lately, it’s been pretty easy to give New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez nothing but grief. Because we think he deserves it. He cheated. He lied about it. He got caught cheating again. He lied about it again. Now, people associated with Rodriguez’s doping behind the scenes are getting convicted and going to jail. Serious stuff.
Major League Baseball and Rodriguez’s employer, the Yankees, have toed the line of public perception, a perception that still entitles Rodriguez to do nothing but play through the guaranteed contract both sides agreed to. Now, that contract (well some of the verbiage of that contract) has taken center stage. The same contract Rodriguez signed back in 2007 was going to allow both the Yankees and Rodriguez to bask in the journey of his pursuit of home run immortality – in lockstep with the pinstripes and tradition of the great Yankee machine: history, excellence, championships, and marketing dollars.
At the time, it looked like a great marriage. The combination of Rodriguez’s Herculean feats, the Yankees’ historical tradition of “myth and mystique,” and the glow of the spotlight on its over-the-top, arrogant fans. The New York media and the country’s most recognizable sports franchise would fuel the fire.
How are baseball accomplishments measured? By stats. By numbers, or course. No other sport resonates more with numbers than baseball. For example, most people know that Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. What even the most hardcore fans like myself don’t know, is the exact number of yards he had: 18,355 (I had to look it up).
In baseball, we know what 61, 2,131, .406, 715 (and later 755), and 56 signify. Baseball fans and historians know exactly what these numbers are, who owns them, and what they mean. So now, as Rodriguez hits “the numbers,” there’s no media slobbery, no Yankee tradition, and no marketing juggernaut to inspire fans the way recent retirement tours of Yankee greats Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter did. Why not?
Because of the importance of those numbers. Well, the importance of those numbers to the current baseball media. This same media is the most ardent mouthpiece against the recent steroid/PED era. These people remind us that the huge uptick in home runs during that era has lessened the significance of the previous milestones that were in place for years and were hard to reach. The writers bemoan that “it’s all gone.” And they might be right.
The other day, Rodriguez hit career home runs 660 and 661, first tying and then passing the great Willie Mays for 4th place on the all-time home run list. The announcers predictably relayed what Rodriguez accomplished but stopped short of commenting on the occasion. It was simply, “Alex Rodriguez has just passed Willie Mays for 4th on the all-time career home run list.” Nothing more.
The fact was stated, and it was up to you the fan, to dissect it. It’s obvious the Yankees are upset with Rodriguez’s indiscretions. They’ve instructed their commentators to tone done the significance of Rodriguez’s accomplishment in large part because they don’t want to pay him the stunning $6 million-dollar bonus for the landmark homer or the bonuses to come if Rodriguez gets to 715, 764, or 765.
The Yankees stand to lose money on the marketing that will never occur, at least not while Rodriguez is active. There will be no promotional giveaways and no outlandish, stop-the-game presentation for Rodriguez when he crosses home plate. Nothing. But it’s not nothing. It’s something. Something stunning. Guess what baseball-nostalgia people? People didn’t boo Rodriguez when he hit the tie-breaking homer! As a matter of fact, he was called out of the dugout for one of those famous Yankee Stadium curtain calls. Yes, all those baseball fans cheered the so-called cheater.
I have to admit something about myself here. I have NEVER jeered or booed an opposing player, let alone one of my own beloved team’s players. That includes the infamous Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and yes, Alex Rodriguez. I get mad when we are beaten or when we beat ourselves. This is my perspective, not yours, of course. But you can copy me if you like. Oh, and there’s one other point. In hardworking cities like New York (and Pittsburgh), fans want their teams to win. Ultimately, Rodriguez is looked at as a guy on the team trying to help the Yankees win more games. Rodriguez isn’t an aging superstar chasing records. Maybe he’s becoming less of a villain in the eyes of Yankee fans. Hold off on the Hall of Fame. Rodriguez will have to wait for people to forgive and forget his baseball indiscretions.
From what I’ve seen so far this year, Rodriguez has handled himself with aplomb between the foul lines and in the locker room. I’d like to add that every time he hits another homer, I laugh inside. I’m happy for Rodriguez, but I’m also happy for my Yankees. It will be interesting to see how this continues to unfold, especially if the Yankees stay in 1st Place in the American League East.
About the Special Guest Commentator
Chad Ackerman was born, raised, and sports afflicted in New York City proper. Chad graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree with a degree in Communications and a love of all things Wildcats. He has never had the opportunity to work in sports, but he’s not shy about sharing his knowledge and passion for the games and the sports he loves – from New York Yankees baseball to New York Rangers hockey. Chad also has an uncanny ability to project which college basketball players will best translate to the NBA. Chad met Dan at a Phoenix Suns job fair last year. Both agree that their friendship is the best thing to come out of that night.