The good, the bad, and the ugly—Alex Rodriguez’s time in New York and in the major leagues can be summed up with all three, a true triple play.
A-Rod lovers and A-Rod haters all make some valid points. But one thing is undeniable: baseball and the Big Apple just won’t be the same without number 13.
As Alex Rodriguez heads off into retirement, the feelings about the slugger are all over the map. From Seattle to Texas to New York and everywhere in between, everyone has an opinion on A-Rod. To some he’s nothing but a cheater—a steroid using liar who gave himself an unfair advantage by juicing. That’s the A-Roid faction.
Others are unapologetically pro-Rod. They’ll tell you he was a Hall of Famer before any of the PEDs. They’ll point to his amazing clout and his superior all-around talent that came on to the scene at such a tender age. Rodriguez is one of the best we’ve ever seen. They’d be right on that point.
Perhaps the true answer lies somewhere in the middle. A-Rod was never the warm and fuzzy character, like say a McGwire or Sosa circa 1998. Those two got free passes from so many for the good of the story. For the folklore. Rodriguez, like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens before, was already disliked by reporters and many fans. So, his transgressions were met with a collective “told ya so” as opposed to the “aw shucks” that went with Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy. It doesn’t absolve all of Rodriguez’s actions but it certainly puts them in perspective.
Even among the Yankees faithful there are A-Rod detractors and supporters. Each time the controversial bopper returned from his latest scandal he was met with boos and cheers. Not a 50-50 split, but enough to realize this particular player is as polarizing as he is powerful. Even the most ardent A-Rod hater though, cannot deny this one: the Yankees do not win their last World Series Championship if not for Mr. Rodriguez.
After an up and down start to his Yankee career lowlighted by many an early exit from the playoffs in his first few Bronx seasons, Rodriguez carried the Bombers in 2009—huge hit after huge hit culminating in a fall classic victory over the Phillies. Rodriguez was the big hero in the Canyon of Heroes.
Now, when you’re the New York Yankees, winners of 27 world titles, perhaps they don’t count as much in the heads of some average fans. What’s 26 or 27 if we could erase A-Rod? Tell that to his former clubs. The Mariners and Rangers still have yet to win it all. Most fans of those clubs would likely turn back time to keep A-Rod, warts and all, if it meant he’d help deliver that elusive ring.
One stat Rodriguez definitely led the way in was BPA, back-page appearances in New York tabloids. In a city that was home to Joe Namath, Reggie Jackson, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Favre, and, of course, Derek Jeter, that’s saying something.
A-Rod was just one of those guys. Like a Dennis Rodman or a Jim McMahon, Rodriguez piqued the interest of many who wouldn’t care about sports otherwise. Men, women, kids, seniors, you name it…everyone knows A-Rod. He put fans in the seats. They wanted to see the show. On and off the field, the exploits of A-Rod were well known.
I had the opportunity to cover Rodriguez several times during his career. My dealings with him were, frankly, great. He was cordial, friendly, and forthright. Others will paint a far different picture. That goes back to the polarization. It all depends who you talk to. But at least these opinions are coming from people who’ve actually met the man. It’s a whole other ball game when you’re talking about fans making broad generalizations about a person they don’t know. Tom Brady gets the same treatment. That’s not fair.
For the purists who simply loathe any steroid user, there’s not much to argue. Of course, they’d have to loathe about half of MLB players for the better part of a generation. But who’s counting? Those people will never appreciate A-Rod. Many in the same crowd are A=OK with admitted spit-baller Gaylord Perry entering the Hall of Fame. But the names of Rodriguez, Bonds, and Clemens give them night terrors. Some like to qualify their cheating.
Wherever you stand on A-Rod, it is the end of an era. One of the greatest hitters in Major League history is done. Like so many of the mashers we’ve bid adieu to in recent years, Rodriguez exits stage left with plenty of baggage. Personally, I’ve enjoyed watching Rodriguez on the field. Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and yes, A-Rod, were the greatest hitters I’ve ever seen.
So, for those who are happy to see A-Rod go, it’s time to find a new foe. For the supporters, you have your memories. You can still dream of one day partying like it’s 2009. For the rest of us? Do as you wish. But, know this: plenty will be different without Rodriguez around. Who will we complain about? Who will get under our skin? Who will hit tape measure jobs that we talk about for days? Who will a geriatric Madonna stalk next?
Hang tight. The next archenemy of baseball will make himself known soon enough. But he’s got some big shoes to fill.