Exiled New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez is about to rejoin his team after serving a 162 game suspension in 2014 for taking banned performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in what became known as the Biogenesis Scandal named after the now-defunct “rejuvenation” clinic. And if you thought fans and foes alike reviled Rodriguez at the time of his ignoble banishment from the game, the hyperventilated vitriol today has only sharpened as the man once known as A-Rod – but now ridiculed as A-Fraud and A-Roid –arrived this week for Yankee spring training in Tampa. Even the fact that he arrived a couple days early was taken as a sign not of eagerness to get back in shape or of atonement in some small way, but as an insult to the team.
You’d think Joseph Mengele had risen from the dead and come to Florida to run Nazi medical experiments on the eager children begging for autographs by the fence.
New York newspapers, especially The Post have ridden Rodriguez for years, amping up the shrieking headlines when he copped to using PEDs after denying it for years, and when he refused to take Major League Baseball’s original 211 game suspension lying down.
But there was a time when Alex Rodriguez was revered for his awesome talent at the plate and in the field – a time when MLB was reaping huge financial rewards by putting big hitters on a pedestal and hyping home-run competitions, all the while turning a blind eye to endemic substance use.
Yes, in 2003 MLB with the permission of the players conducted a drug “survey” the results of which they promised would remain anonymous. Further, they promised to apply no penalties or punishments on anyone found using. Nevertheless, the names of more than 100 players found to be using steroids were made public anyway, and the spotlight turned on a handful of marquee players, including Rodriguez. He admitted using steroids solely in the period from 2001to 2003 – and had things stayed that way, perhaps his legacy would be different.
But in early 2013 new evidence emerged that Rodriguez was still juicing. Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig threw the book at him – I presume to make an example of A-Rod, or perhaps to make up for being unable to nail him for his 2001-2003 transgressions. (Side note: in his injury-shortened 2013 season, Rodriguez surpassed records held by such baseball lightweights as Stan Musial (career RBIs) and Lou Gehrig (most grand slams)).
Yet now, because he had the audacity to complain about the quality of the physical training he received, fight the terms of the lengthy suspension, continue to play for (and embarrass) the Yankees while he appealed his suspension, and file a lawsuit against the club – everyone in hometown New York hates his ass.
And so now – with much trepidation as I expect blowback from partisans who will stridently disagree with me on every point – here is my defense of Alex Rodriguez. This is not meant to exonerate him from all his foibles, but the vilification seems to be all out of proportion with his transgressions.
- Whatever Rodriguez did up to 2003 was not a violation of MLB rules. Only because private medical data was made public did Rodriguez come under fire. Failure to protect the privacy of the data – as promised by MLB to the players who voluntarily participated – is the bigger violation.
- By hyping big hitting and cheerleading home run competitions, MLB made heroes out of the likes of juicers Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Raphael Palmiero and Rodriguez among others. So as home run records fell and players bulked out, MLB looked aside and minted money. It’s similar to the NFL which glorifies hard hitting sacks and tackles, then goes blank on the subject of brain injuries. Bottom-line: MLB management incentivized the phenomenon they now disdain.
- Although New Yorkers pride themselves in their savvy cynicism, when it comes to the Yankees many seem to forget that Major League Baseball is a business, and players like Rodriguez are really nothing more than unionized employees with contracts. When Merrill-Lynch shit the bed in 2008 during the financial crisis, CEO John Thain came under withering criticism for his mismanagement and overblown compensation, but no one for a moment ever thought he would seriously consider giving a dime back of his $83 million package. Some may have called for clawbacks to be imposed, but no one in their wildest imagination expected Thain to voluntarily remunerate Merrill and the taxpayers who bailed them out. No one even asked.
So why would anyone expect A-Rod to voluntarily walk away from his contracted millions? Who among the fans would do the same? Yankees management saw fit to negotiate and sign the lucrative contract – and to my knowledge, Luca Brasi wasn’t holding a gun to their heads. When the cost of the new Yankee stadium ballooned to twice the original estimate, sticking taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional burden, did Yankee management voluntarily step outside the contract and cover the overage? No chance. Business is business – don’t blame A-Rod for claiming what is legally his.
- By vilifying A-Rod and others for using PEDs, people seem to be implying that all you have to do to be a major league star is to shoot some steroids into your ass 3 times a week. That all it takes to hit 60+ home runs a year is to build up your muscles. Clearly, it would seem PEDs offer an advantage (and it is probably also true that they are detrimental sometimes as well), but to credit all of Rodriguez’s accomplishments to steroids is ridiculous.
- And speaking of performance enhancing drugs, where should the line be drawn. Steroids, yes. How about Prozac and Xanax that some athletes take to overcome anxiety of performing in big venues? And what about Marcaine, an injectable pain-killer administered to Boston pitcher Curt Schilling to help him manage with a dodgy ankle? Hell, the mortally-wounded Schilling (and his bloody sock) was held up as an icon for beating the Yankees in game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, and no one so much as mentioned the pain-killer as a form of performance enhancer, even though he would have been debilitated without it. Why the double-standard?
- Why the double standard? Perhaps because PEDs are seen as cheating; i.e. a foreign intrusion sullying the integrity of the game. Players who have broken long-standing hitting records are reviled for taking honors away from the giants of the game: Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, Willy Mays. So much so that guys like McGuire and Sosa are forever tarred with an asterisk next to their names in record books. But in fact MLB has occasionally tinkered with the parameters of the game with the objective of making it more exciting to the fans (i.e. produce more big-time hitting.) They’ve lowered the height of the pitcher’s mound, designed stadiums with shorter distances from home plate to the fence, maybe even looked askance as manufacturers supposedly “juiced” balls. MLB loves its history, except when historical remnants stifle profiteering.
- The greedy Yankees front office is just pissed that they may have to pay off a $6 million award to Rodriguez if and when he hits just six more home runs and ties Willy Mays’s count of 660. Could they be ginning up fan anger to save the money? Who knows.
Filed under WTF!
From The New York Times on Feb 24th (emphasis mine): “The city is seeking to waive a rule that requires parents to sign a consent form before the ritual, which involves the circumciser using his mouth to suck blood away from the incision on a boy’s penis. (The) controversial circumcision ritual that has been linked to herpes infections in infants.”