Puzzle that is A-Rod takes disturbing turn
By MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service
By MIKE LOPRESTI
Once upon a time, his career felt like a fairy tale. Alex Rodriguez was young and handsome and good at playing the game of baseball. So good.
He became rich. So rich.
He grew famous. So famous.
He ended up in Yankee Stadium, of course, because that was the biggest stage and he was an incandescent star. He seemed born to wear pinstripes, and the good times in the Bronx would never end.
Except, they have.
Now it is hard to keep up with the assortment of A-Rod controversies, not to mention the twists on his celebrated nickname that accompany them.
- Stray-Rod, for when he landed on the cover of a tabloid in the company of a stripper.
- A-Fraud, allegedly uttered behind his back by Yankee teammates, if Joe Torre's new book is to be believed.
- Now, in countless headlines for days to come, A-Roid. Sports Illustrated is reporting that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, while he was engaged in winning the American League MVP award for the Texas Rangers.
And the hits just keep on coming. He would need to be made of steel to not be rocked by all this. Is he?
When it comes to public sympathy, this is not the best time to be wealthy and accused of bending the rules. The only thing that separates him from an offending corporate CEO at the moment is a .306 career batting average.
Rodriguez was paid $28 million last season - $7 million more than anyone else in the game, more than the entire Florida Marlins roster, and nearly two-thirds of the payroll of the Tampa Bay Rays, who played in the World Series.
Rodriguez, as any Yankee fan from the front row to the upper deck knows, has never played in the World Series.
So the puzzle that is Alex Rodriguez only grows more complex. Just what do we make of this man, with the unmistakable talent and the undeniable statistics?
The circus around Rodriguez has never been all his fault. He did not use an Uzi to get all that money. Someone willingly opened the vault. It is a curious thing about fans. They cheer as an athlete performs extraordinary deeds to earn a fat salary, and then resent him when he gets paid.
The day before Rodriguez fully and financially became A-Rod might have been the last simple day of his life. From that moment, he would need to be nearly flawless, and rarely disappoint.
He has fallen a good deal short of that.
Do we look at Rodriguez and see the man with Hall of Fame numbers during the season?
Or the player who has several meek and mild Octobers on his rap sheet, and has never been able to carry a team into the World Series? In the past three Yankee postseasons, Rodriguez had one homer, drove in one run, and struck out 15 times.
Do we see the polite young man, invariably courteous to the world?
Or the tabloid cover favorite, supposedly taken with Madonna?
Do we see the athlete who worked hard to make such a gilded living?
Or the face that always comes to the public mind when the subject is stupefying level of salaries in professional sport?
And now, this new one. No one has ever questioned the impressive power of Rodriguez' career numbers. They have been the one feature of the A-Rod Show above debate.
From this day forward, are they forever tainted?
It is easy at the moment to feel some compassion for Rodriguez. There is a hint of vulnerability about him, and one of the questions to mark his era is if he is too psychologically fragile to travel the road he's chosen - that of a highly paid superstar in New York, every twitch open to scrutiny, 24/7.
But the steroid report takes the A-Rod saga to a different, disturbing level. If true, it leaves little place for him to hide. Not even behind those 553 home runs.
Money can't buy him peace, or even, so far, a World Series ring. To be Alex Rodriguez lately is to understand that most news is bad news. Except for payday.