Liam Day realizes that for any number of reasons, he shouldn’t have sympathy for Alex Rodriguez …
He is, after all, a multi-million dollar athlete who, like others before him, stonewalled an investigation into his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. He’s a stat machine whose individual performance in the playoffs has never quite equaled his regular season success, a man whose individual performance, it can be argued, too often came at the expense of his team. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the Seattle Mariners set a Major League Baseball record with 116 wins in 2001, the year after A-Rod, then a free agent, signed with the Texas Rangers for $252 million.
To top it all off, he’s been a Yankee for almost a decade now, the personification of that franchise’s salary excesses.
Still, Ted Williams wasn’t much liked during his playing days either and he was, like A-Rod, often accused of ignoring his team’s success in lieu of his own. And, yet, John Updike eulogized him upon retirement and his star only grew brighter the further from the game he got.
One might have expected the same sunset ride for a man who it was once assumed would, when it was all said and done, be considered one of the game’s greatest players, a man who had forever redefined the short stop position, a position that had, since the game’s inception, been dominated by the likes of Mark Belanger, a great defensive player who once achieved the rather ignominious distinction of finishing last in the American League in all three Triple Crown categories for players with the minimum number of at-bats to qualify for consideration. After A-Rod, teams would no longer put up with a short stop who could not also put up offensive numbers.
Of course, it is difficult now to know how much of that success was truly his and how much of it due to the drugs. That is the pernicious thing about PEDs. Apart from the physical damage they do to the bodies of the athletes who take them, apart from the suspicion their widespread use has cast on every player in the game, the biggest impact PEDs have had is to interrupt baseball’s historical continuity, to render meaningless any consideration of whether Roger Clemens, say, was better than Steve Carlton or Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Walter Johnson.
It might not seem like much, but for a game much of whose popularity derives from its historical continuum, severing that continuum is a huge deal.
So, yes, my anger toward Alex Rodriguez should outweigh my sympathy, but there remains a twinge of pity for a man who has fallen so far from the heights he once occupied. Since his admission in 2009 of PED use when he was still with the Rangers, Rodriguez’s productivity has declined amid constant rounds of injuries. Offseason surgery has kept him out of the Yankees’ otherwise anemic line up for all of the 2013 season so far and Bud Selig is now threatening to ban him from the game entirely unless he agrees to sit out the 2014 season for his connection to Biogenesis and its founder Anthony Bosch, the man at the heart of the sport’s latest PED scandal.
There is something decidedly human in the story of Alex Rodriguez’s fall. It is the story of Icarus, a man who dared to fly, but in his hubris flew too close to the sun. Alex Rodriguez was a great baseball player, but being a great baseball player wasn’t enough. He wanted to be the greatest and he will now pay the price for that ambition. As he should.
So, yes, we will watch the negotiations between Commissioner Selig and Alex Rodriguez’s representatives unfold over the next few weeks and hope that the punishment Rodriguez receives from MLB is commensurate to the crimes he committed.
Still, I can’t help feel a little sorry for him. How does one fall so far so fast?
Photo: AP File/Kathy Willens