Whether it’s the handwritten apology that is being broken apart by forensic units and handwriting specialists, or the lengthy feature released by ESPN: The Magazine, the reintroduction of Alex Rodriguez to the world hasn’t changed the world’s perspective on the aging slugger. After spending the 2014 season suspended from the only job that he had had since the age of 18, the year that he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and had 59 over-matched plate appearances, we have come to find out that Rodriguez spent the year toiling in the various activities that someone with $500 million from playing a game can afford to do to “find oneself”.
Are we expected to hate Alex Rodriguez due to his lies and cheating? Are we expected to feel sorry for him because his father ran out on him and he never went to college? Are we expected to forgive his indiscretions and transgressions due to his willingness to come back to a game that is trying to push him as far away from it as possible? Are we expected to think that he is coming back for the “love of the game” or for the $61 million that he is guaranteed over the next three seasons?
It would be an understatement to say that Alex Rodriguez is a polarizing figure. Despite that fact that Barry Bonds utilized the same methods in the use of illegal materials and the same willingness to dodge the truth, it is Alex Rodriguez who has become the most hated man in baseball. Despite the fact that Bonds is the one who holds the record for career home runs, it is Rodriguez who isn’t supposed to break the record going forward. As the ESPN: The Magazine article discussed, it is Rodriguez who is the villain, despite Ryan Braun‘s presence in Major League Baseball, even with Braun’s willingness to drag everyone and their brother under the bus after being outed as a cheater, twice. The Hall of Fame cases for Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Mike Piazza are tainted, whether wrongfully or not, by the cloud of steroids that has followed them and an entire era of players; however, it is Jason Giambi, an admitted user, who gets to retire with honor this week and slide right into an organizational position with the Cleveland Indians, who is praised for his career, which he has admitted to altering.
So, what is it that causes this polarization on these players? If being super-competitive led declining players to seek elongation of a career, yet we mock Willie Mays for his time as a New York Met, what is it that our society really wants out of our professional sports icons?
Our culture has changed significantly during my 34 years as a member of this planet, but one thing that has been going on for quite some time is the fact that people are willing to take some wild steps to get to where they want to be in life. Today, we like to think that baseball is in need of a change due to the length of the games and the “entertain me now” philosophy that goes along with the Social Media age. Why not add a clock to ensure that a pitcher throws the ball while two-thirds of the stadium is busy tagging their friend in a picture and posting #nofilter on the beautiful sunset peeking through the right field corner of the stadium? It seems ridiculous to change the ideas of what is acceptable and appropriate in our lives and our entertainment, demanding more right now than we ever did in the past. More news, more excitement, more reasons why you should enjoy what you have in front of you than actually taking the time to enjoy it. The sensationalism of “things” and “experiences” has led to something as minute as an individual’s actions being more important than the game.
That ideology is why Alex Rodriguez and others have become the poster children for the fall of the game. Rodriguez wasn’t alone, but we always want to blame someone. Before ARod it was Bonds, before Bonds it was Canseco, and before Canseco it was Pete Rose. We don’t need to change baseball and we don’t need to change Alex Rodriguez. We need to remember that he was playing a game, that he made a mistake (albeit for several years) to try to maintain his lifestyle. In the same way that others make mistakes and create debt by using credit cards for things that they can’t afford, they are forced to dig themselves out.
In the same way, Alex Rodriguez needs to dig himself out. He doesn’t need to accept blame, he didn’t need to apologize, he just needed to change and be happy while playing the game cleanly. No one needs answers in this catastrophe of a public relations nightmare. There are far worse things going on behind the scenes of athletes’ lives than a man using his body as a pin cushion for steroids – just look at the NFL arrests since the Super Bowl. For all of the ridiculous spins that stories featuring Alex Rodriguez have taken over the last several days, here is one that you won’t see all over the internet: Alex Rodriguez was great, he was troubled, and he will overcome those troubles to be respected by the end of his career.
People have been cheating in all aspects of business. Sure, kids look up to him, but, as Charles Barkley once said:
Alex Rodriguez doesn’t need to answer questions for anyone except his two daughters, his family, and his closest friends. He isn’t threatening to end the world, attacking innocent lives, or testing ballistic missiles. He’s just a baseball player who screwed up. He deserves another chance to come out and do it right, and until he does it wrong again, we should all just sit back and watch, keeping our mouths shut the way that Alex Rodriguez should have the whole time.