Thinking of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and his historic milestone of passing Willie Mays’ lifetime home run record last week, I was reminded of the jokes kids used to tell one another when they wanted to impress their playground friends with the epic grossness of their imaginations.
“Hey, what’s grosser than gross?” you would ask a buddy, who would then provide the grossest thing he could imagine.
Or it would go something like this: “Hey, what’s grosser than biting into an apple and finding a worm?”
“Biting into an apple and finding half a worm!” Root-beer-out-the-nose laughter sure to follow. Usually, of course, the gross imaginings of 10-year-old boys were infinitely more disgusting than merely finding a half-eaten worm wriggling out of a bitten apple.
Which brings us back to A-Rod and the New York Yankees. But this is all so gross I am not sure it is fit for a family newspaper, let alone our cherished national pastime.
An amazing, if obnoxious and obscenely paid, physical specimen. By any measure, he is among the greatest baseball players of all time. But that wasn’t enough.
Blind greed, insatiable lust for fame and naked ambition led him to dope himself up so that he could power more balls over outfield fences in ballparks all over America.
Allegations and rumors swirled for years as A-Rod steadfastly lied about using performance-enhancing drugs. Eventually, the truth caught up with him, and Major League Baseball finally suspended him from baseball for all of last season. Now A-Rod is back playing with the Yankees and is chipping away at the home run records held by the greatest of baseball greats such as Mays, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron. And, of course, A-Rod’s fellow juicing suspect, Barry Bonds.
All pretty gross. But you know what’s even grosser than that? The New York Yankees.
So this year, as A-Rod returned from his season-long suspension, he has kept his head down and his mouth shut (miracles in and of themselves for A-Rod) and doggedly pursued Mays’ lifetime home run mark of 660 balls out of the park. Pretty big deal in a sport that is insanely obsessed with statistics, right?
This is a huge moment for the New York Yankees, and it is all anyone inside and around the organization can talk about, right? Alex Rodriguez, for all his annoying faults, has emerged from punishment and just last week matched and then beat Mays’ lifetime home run total, putting him in fourth place for all time.
Wrong. Not a peep from the Yankees. They are embarrassed. They are studiously looking the other way and ignoring the star in their midst.
Why, you ask? Because A-Rod is a cheating doper who doesn’t belong on the same ball field as natural greats like Mays, Ruth, and Aaron, who played through real adversity, pain and aging with absolute bravery and without complaint? Because the great New York Yankees don’t like cheaters?
Wouldn’t that be nice.
No, it turns out that the reason the New York Yankees want to wish away A-Rod and his mighty baseball milestones is that the New York Yankees are filled with even greater blind greed. All because they agreed back before A-Rod’s embarrassing suspension that they would pay their star player $6 million for every home run milestone he crossed. But now that Rodriguez has been exposed as a cheater, the New York Yankees are not in a position to wage a massive promotional blitz around A-Rod’s achievements.
Yet, the Yankees are not ashamed enough of Rodriguez and the embarrassment he brings to bench him, which is what they should do if they really don’t want to pay out all those bonuses for hitting balls out of the park. But they don’t want to do that because they would lose games and lose even more money. So they let him play, put him out there every day to chalk up wins for the New York Yankees, all the while pretending he is not hitting his way into the baseball history books.
So, for the Yankees, those bonuses never really were about the achievement in the first place. They were always all about the ad campaign to go with them to make them richer and more famous. Which, if you think about it, sounds and smells an awful lot like the same shortcut, doped-up cheating that got A-Rod suspended for a full season.
That, truly, is grosser than gross.
Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @charleshurt.