If you think Alex Rodriguez is the most despised player in New York Yankees history—and he is—just wait a few days till he passes up Willie Mays for 4th place on the all-time home run list. (As we go to press, he’s at 658, two behind Willie at 660.)
Willie Mays is one of the most revered figures in New York sports history, and a local press that loathes Alex Rodriguez is going to have conniption fits at the unfairness of it all. How much do they hate Rodriguez? More than the San Francisco Bay area press hated Barry Bonds. When Bonds passed up his godfather, Mays, in all-time home runs, the press and the fans applauded him. Here, both the media and the public … well, wait a moment. The fans don’t seem to be hating A-Rod right now; they cheered him on Opening Day, they cheered his colossal 470-foot home run against Tampa Bay, and except for a smattering of boos, they continued to cheer him through Thursday afternoon’s 2-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
Though his batting average is hovering between .250 and .270, he’s been reaching base 40 percent of the time he steps up to the plate, and has hit 4 home runs. The Yankees have been at or over .500 for all of the young season, and one of the principal reasons has been Rodriguez.
Let’s face it: right now there isn’t much else for Yankee fans to cheer about, but the New York media refuses to give him a break. Even though Rodriguez has paid his debt to Major League Baseball by serving his 162-game suspension for purchasing banned substances, last week AOL was asking, “Should Yankee Fans Cheer or Boo A-Rod?”
Typical of the blizzard of A-Rod-related literature was the schoolmarmish scolding by New York Times writer Juliet Macur on February 15. “Just imagine,” she wrote with relish, “the satisfaction of giving Rodriguez one last paycheck next month and then nabbing him by his pinstriped belt loops and tossing him into 161st Street … it would also be the right thing to do. At the very least, it might just spare baseball from having to print even more asterisks in its record book.” (Actually, baseball has never printed any asterisks in its record books, but let that pass.)
Macur neglected to tell us if, when the Yankees toss A-Rod out into 161st, they should back up this brave action by refunding the tickets paid by the thousands who came to see him play.
“If Rodriguez plays this season, he will almost certainly hit enough home runs to pass Mays … next up would be Babe Ruth, and then Hank Aaron. Every step would remind all of us how dopers have infiltrated so many of baseball’s lists.” Umm, I hate to bring this up, but that list would have to include Willie Mays, since he openly confessed to Bob Costas a few years ago that he freely partook of little reds over the last few years of his career.
“Baseball doesn’t want that. Fans don’t want that.” I know Baseball doesn’t want that now; they would have risked the wrath of the U.S. Senate and the loss of their precious exemption from antitrust laws if they hadn’t done something about performance enhancing drugs, but I don’t think they cared too much back in the late ’90s when Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were selling out ballparks.
As for what the fans want, I honestly don’t think they care much about performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) one way or another, despite the relentless moralizing by the sports media—and let’s remember the New York press hated Alex Rodriguez long before the link to PEDs. I think all the fans want to see is their team win, and right now they’re more touchy about the second-rate rag-tag squad the Yankees front office has put on the field than they are about further flogging one of the few genuine hitters they have.
I don’t care that much one way or another about Alex Rodriguez so long as he can hit for my team; right now I’ll settle for the .272 batting average and 18 home runs he had in 2013, numbers that I suspect will be looking pretty good come September.
What I have had enough of is the hypocrisy of a press that ignores a front office that fields a Triple-A minor league and charges major league prices to watch it. I’ve also had it with the soap box sanctity of a sports media that is ridiculously arbitrary when it comes to making heroes or villains of athletes.
If anyone cares to notice, there are sports figures who are dragging around a lot more baggage than Alex Rodriguez, who have inexplicably been granted a Get Out of Jail pass through adroit PR. Like, for instance, retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
Lewis is something of a hero right now and appears regularly on national television during the football season. At first glance, Rodriguez and Lewis don’t seem to be much of a match, but they have a lot more in common than most have noticed. They were born the same year, 1975. Lewis made 13 Pro Bowls, was twice named defensive player of the year, and has two Super Bowl rings. Rodriguez is a 14-time All-Star who has won three MVP awards and has one World Series ring. You’d have to say that the two men’s stature in their respective sports is comparable.
Like A-Rod, Lewis has a connection to performance enhancing drugs. In February 2013, Sports Illustrated accused Lewis of trying to buy spray made from deer antler velvet, which contains an anabolic hormone. Typical of the media reaction was Jonathan Mahler on Deadspin, who dismissed the story, claiming that it was “another imaginary drug scandal.” There was, he maintained, no evidence that deer antler spray enhances athletic performance—a valid point, perhaps, and one that can surely be made for just about all of the substances being dealt by Bosch.
Never mind Barry Bonds, who was, in effect, a lab rat for the state-of-the-art PED clinic BALCO—what proof is there that any of the substances the players have been shooting in their asses have boosted performance? How do we even know what A-Rod was actually getting from a snake oil salesman like Bosch, who doesn’t even have a medical degree?
Let’s take a quick look at the items on Lewis’s rap sheet. In 2012 he placed second in a player poll as “the most violent, dangerous player in the sport.” (Even Lewis couldn’t beat out James Harrison for the top spot.)
A-Rod has done some silly, schoolyardish stuff, like causing a fielder to drop a pop-up by yelling “Hey!” and knocking a ball out of a fielder’s mitt on a close play at first. Oh, yes, he crossed the mound while trotting off the field, causing one pitcher an extreme case of feigned righteous indignation. I’ll bet most fans didn’t know that was an unwritten rule of baseball until A-Rod broke it. Anyway, I don’t think anyone, no matter how much they disliked Alex Rodriguez, has ever called him a dirty player.
Nor has Rodriguez ever been investigated on allegation of battery, which Lewis was in 1994 at the University of Miami—twice. Both incidents involved a woman pregnant with Lewis’s child.
Certainly Rodriguez has never been involved in anything like the January 2000 incident in Atlanta. After a Super Bowl party, Lewis and his entourage exchanged words with a group outside a nightclub. Two men were stabbed to death while Lewis and his friends drove off. The limo driver later told police that he saw Lewis punching one the victims; the blood of one of the men was found in the limo, and a witness testified that one of the entourage disposed of Lewis’s suit. Another witness heard testified Lewis say, “Keep their mouths shut and don’t say nothing.”
Lewis was charged with two counts of homicide. The case fell apart when witnesses recanted testimony. Lewis cut a deal, pled guilty to obstruction of justice (a misdemeanor), and got a year of probation.
Yet shortly after the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, Commissioner Roger Goodell—remember him? The guy who never got the video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife?—called Lewis “a tremendous voice of reason … I can tell you that I will always seek out his input.”
How did Ray Lewis turn things around? Well, a few months after the Atlanta slayings, Lewis found religion and was calling himself “a changed man.” He nurtured a reputation as a good father to his six children (by four different women), and became involved in charities, particularly his Ray Lewis Family Foundation, distributing turkeys to the poor of Baltimore. Every time he took his kids to Chuck E. Cheese or handed out a Christmas toy to a needy child, guess what? A photographer just happened to be there to capture the moment.
Can you imagine Alex Rodriguez as a commentator on ESPN and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seeking advice from him?
Cutting ties with A-Rod, Juliet Macur thinks, would appease the grumbling New York fans. In my experience, Yankee fans don’t grumble. They cheer, or they boo. And right now, they’re cheering.