Monday, November 2, 2009

Leave A-Rod Alone

My hatred of the New York Yankees is similar to that which might be felt at a Sons Of Confederate Veterans outing to a Spike Lee movie. I haven't even remotely thought of rooting for the Yanks since my early boyhood hero, Reggie Jackson, went to the California Angels in 1982, and by that time I had become a die-hard Braves' fan thanks to Ted Turner's daily tubular injections. The need to make that abundantly clear will be evident with the next sentence I write, which is anathema to just about every non-Yankee lover in America, along with all the women who wish they were the Budweiser Derek Jeter Girlfriend Of The Week (you didn't know he had a corporate sponsor for his women, did you?). It is time to stop criticizing Alex Rodriguez for, well, being Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod began his career as a Wunderkind shortstop in Seattle, with many predictions that he might someday be the greatest player of all-time. While Cal Ripken deserves credit for making shortstop a position for power hitters instead of a place where five-foot-three guys batted .177 while catching everything hit between them and the stadium parking lot, Rodriguez was Ripken cubed. A very good fielder (much better in the field than Jeter, but that's another column), and power hitter extraordinaire, not too many people were surprised when A-Rod signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers in 2001 for enough money to buy Hilton Head Island or to pay for the Texas electric chair's power bill for about a week-and-a-half.

The beginning of his Texas tenure is supposedly when A-Rod discovered the Power of Injection (wonder if that's going to be Dr. Wayne Dyer's next public TV pledge drive special?). Sure enough, Rodriguez averaged a third-more homers during his three cowpoke-land doping years, and I'm sure that the cat-turd-sized Arlington ballpark and the Texas summer heat had NOTHING to do with that, not to mention that virtually everyone across the majors was hitting more dongers during that period. Um-hmmm. When A-Rod's positive steroid test from all those years ago became public, this past February, the baseball world immediately grew long beards, put on those "End Of The World Is Nigh" placards, and paced up and down our TV's. This happened around the same time that Alex's manager during most of his Yankee years, Joe Torre, took the brave step of using his book to rip him. You know, man-to-man, or man-to-book.

So how did Rodriguez respond to all this? After missing the beginning of the season due to injury, he should be the Yankees' team MVP this year. True, Derek Jeter had a great season, even (for him) in the field, and Mark Teixeira was also great, but Tex didn't start hitting until he had A-Rod hitting behind him in the lineup. "Oh, yeah? Well, A-Rod plays like Nancy Pelosi governs in the playoffs!" Um, actually he played good playoff ball in Seattle. He did play as if Madonna had him in constant meditation during his first few Yankee postseasons, but so far this postseason, A-Rod is batting .360 (with a .484 OBP and.820 slugging avg.), six bombs and 18 RBI. Simply put, i fhe Yanks win it all this year, the reason they will do so is "A-Fraud." Also, no one seems to care that Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Jeff Bagwell, Stan Musial, and Ty Cobb all stunk it up during their playoff careers. Why is the bar for A-Rod higher than for some of the other greatest players ever?

Well, I know that answer. Unlike Rodriguez, those other guys didn't make enough money to bribe all the Facebook clones into actually complimenting Georgia Bulldogs' coach Mark Richt. "No one is worth all that money." Au contrare. The market has determined that A-Rod IS worth all that money. "Those other guys didn't use steroids!" Maybe that's true, but there have been many different ways of cheating since the invention of baseball, and if you believe that Hank Aaron never popped a "greenie" (amphetamine), in his career, you also probably believe that the cost of government entitlements actually goes down over time. Also, if A-Rod, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and others are permanently tainted by drugs, then for consistency's sake we have to throw out the stats of virtually every NFL player, and probably a lot of college football players in the 1970's and '80's. When an NFL'er is suspended for steroids, they should also be treated with the same public contempt given to A-Rod instead of being treated as conquering heros for your fantasy team when they return.

I would rather watch C-SPAN speeches or that weird polka show on RFD-TV than another Yankees ticker-tape parade this week. But one thing I am very glad to see this playoff season is Alex Rodriguez incontrovertibly establishing himself as perhaps the greatest baseball player of his era, or at the very least a close second to Albert Pujols. And if you ever mention steroids and A-Rod in the same conversation, I will give you three guesses as to where you can stick your asterisks.

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