I have a confession to make. For years, I have been feeling this…thing. I couldn’t nail down what it was for a long time, but I knew it was there, and I knew it was growing.
Now, I know what it is.
Sympathy for Alex Rodriguez.
I understand that I am in the minority, but I can’t help it. This sympathy was cemented by the raw deal Alex Rodriguez is getting from MLB and the Yankees. He is essentially getting the “third strike” penalty for what theoretically is his first offense, and there’s not a single teammate/coach/team official that is standing up to defend him.
It’s remarkable, really, how deafening the silence is when it comes to those who work with him coming to his defense.
By all accounts, all A-Rod ever wanted was to be the respected and looked up to by fans, teammates, coaches, etc. When it comes down to it, the guy just wanted to be loved. By everyone. Which makes it even sadder that he is probably the most disliked athlete* of all time.
(*not including those who committed murder or any other legitimately criminal act)
The biggest problem with A-Rod was, and always has been, A-Rod. The dude can’t get out of his own way. Everything he says and does seems so calculated that it comes off as phony. Maybe that’s just the way he is (like the sarcastic guy from the old Kids In The Hall sketch). I doubt anyone truly knows the real A-Rod. Heck, for that matter, I’m guessing A-Rod doesn’t even know the real A-Rod.
A-Rod wants to be a leader of men, but he doesn’t know how to lead. He wants to be liked by everyone, but he always ends up doing or saying something stupid that ends friendships.
He joined the Mariners at age 18 and played with Ken Griffey Jr., one of the most well-liked and respected players of all time. Even if you weren’t a fan of Seattle, you were a fan of Junior. What did Junior do better than most players of that time? Hit home runs. During A-Rod’s six years with the Mariners, the Kid knocked the ball out of the park 266 times, or an average of just over 44 per season. A-Rod averaged just under 36 home runs per season in the four full years he played with Griffey, Jr. The most home runs A-Rod hit with Seattle was 42, twice.
But no matter what he did in Seattle, A-Rod would never surpass Junior’s popularity. He even played one year with the Mariners after Griffey went on to Cincinnati, but probably realized that he had to go elsewhere to become The Man. So when Texas came calling with 252 million dollars – and what better way to show a guy he’s wanted/loved than a billion-gazillion bucks – Rodriguez must have seen this as his opportunity to become like Griffey, Jr. Obviously, Texas wanted him (that whole billion-gazillion bucks thing), and if he starts hitting home runs at a prodigious rate, he will be worth the contract and Rangers fans will love him and the rest of baseball and America will come around. Since I’ve never dealt with that level of internal/external pressure, I don’t know if I would take steroids or not, so how can I fault the guy for making that decision?
Three years and three last-place finishes later, A-Rod was reviled by media and fans and at the same time called the best player in baseball. It was during this time that he made seemingly critical comments of Derek Jeter, who had been his good friend, when he told Esquire magazine in 2001 that "Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him" and "he's never had to lead."
From A-Rod’s perspective, the guy whose career-best in home runs was 24 was not a leader. Leaders hit home runs, like Griffey, Jr. So he wasn’t being critical of Jeter, per se, as much as he just didn’t understand what made a leader (or, apparently, how friends are supposed to talk about each other).
When A-Rod went to the Yankees, this was his chance to prove himself to be a leader, to show he could take his team to the World Series and beyond. Sure, he was twice named MVP with New York, sure he received a 10-year, 275-million dollar contract, but name the big play he made in the postseason that proved to be the difference between champs and chumps.
No matter what he did, A-Rod was the chump, Jeter was the champ. Again, the pressure must have been ridiculous. A-Rod so badly wanted to be the best, to be loved, that he felt he needed that extra something* to get there.
(*-steroids. Lots of them.)
A-Rod couldn’t even win off the field. Here he is, married father of two, while Derek Jeter is dating starlet after starlet to little or no criticism…so A-Rod leaves his wife and dates, among others, Madonna and Cameron Diaz. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WHAT’S A GUY GOTTA DO TO GET PEOPLE TO LOVE HIM?!?!
What I can't understand is what did A-Rod (211-game suspension) do that was so different from Ryan Braun (65 game suspension)? Braun had already tested positive for a banned substance, but got off on a technicality. A-Rod previously admitted to using and had tested positive in 2003, when there were no penalties for a positive test at that time. So based on MLB’s rules, shouldn’t A-Rod have been hit with a 50-game suspension? There were rumors that MLB offered A-Rod a 50-game suspension but he turned it down, so perhaps the 211-game ban was MLB’s first offer in what they realized would be a back-and-forth until they came to a mutually agreed upon suspension. But it still seems unfair, and this is coming from someone who has NEVER defended Alex Rodriguez.
On some karmic level A-Rod is probably getting what he deserves. But this seems like a specially designed level of hell for him. He wants to be The Man, but a) when he was The Man his team finished in last-place each year; 2) he played with three of The Men in Griffey, Jr., Jeter and Mariano Rivera without ever figuring out their secret in becoming The Men.
In the end, the guy who just wants to be loved by everyone can’t find a single person (except those he keeps on retainer) to step up to the plate and defend him. That’s gotta sting a little.