As of today, Alex Rodriguez is better than Lou Gehrig-assuming you measure the two of them in turns of Runs Batted In. A-Rod is now in sole possession of 3rd on Major League Baseball’s list of all-time RBI leaders. Additionally, he recently eclipsed Willie Mays in home runs. All this has come in his return from a season-long suspension for performance enhancing drug usage-a suspension that came from a repeat finding of PED usage. By and large, the national media-and Major League Baseball for that matter-seem to have arbitrarily forgiven A-Rod and in so doing reinforced the truism that athletes can perform their way out of the dog house. Additionally, by forgiving A-Rod for his transgressions, Major League Baseball has created a discontinuous, multiple front war that it is destined to ultimately lose.
Let’s examine Rodriguez first.
Alex Rodriguez has been accused of using performance enhancing drugs throughout his career. It’s important to bear in mind that as A-Rod was coming up in the Majors, steroids were not illegal. Baseball loved home runs and the offensive explosion that renewed interest in a languishing game around the turn of the millennium. Let’s assume you can’t fault a guy for using a legal substance to maintain a competitive edge against the other guys.
What you can fault A-Rod for is lying about it. In 2007, as a result of allegatioins, Alex Rodriguez sat down to an interview with Katie Couric, where he unequivocally said that he did not take PEDs of any kind. Two years later, Sports Illustrated broke that Rodriguez popped positive while playing for the Texas Rangers in 2003. (Timeline and details courtesy Wikipedia) So, that’s his first lie and first positive set of tests. However, lying or not, he did not deserve to be suspended for lying to Katie Couric, nor for popping positive for a substance that wasn’t exactly banned. But, the positive test needs to be remembered when evaluating his other actions.
Let’s move forward to the Biogenesis discipline from a few years ago. Tony Bosch operated a clinic in south Florida called Biogenesis, and testified when arrested that his company was a shill to provide athletes, namely Alex Rodriguez, with illicit performance enhancing drugs. This testimony, coupled with A-Rod’s history of denial and outright lying, was enough to suspend A-Rod for the 2014 season, after appeal. In the eyes of Major League Baseball, A-Rod was guilty of cheating using PEDs. Now, fresh off his season long suspension, Rodriguez is having a phenomenal season. As mentioned in the foregoing, he broke Willie Mays’s record for home runs, and just broke Lou Gehrig’s for RBIs.
And, the worst part is: we’re celebrating him. ESPN has released a TV spot for their primetime baseball coverage of the Yankees called “Rule 661” where they dub all the critics of Rodriguez over the video of him hitting his 661st home run, and follow it with a voiceover talking about silencing critics. This is garbage. ESPN, Yankees fans, and sports media in general have all piled on A-Rod’s bandwagon because he is playing unbelievably well, and they are painting Rodriguez with their Victim brush by indicating that his critics are nothing more than “haters.”
The truth is that Alex Rodriguez has plenty of people who dislike him for the great baseball player that he is, or that he’s a Yankee. But, there are plenty more who hate Alex Rodriguez for cause. These are the people who view Major League Baseball reverently; the same people that appreciate the nuances of the game and the higher existence to which Baseball belongs. These people are the purists; and when Baseball’s purists loathe you, there’s substance to that.
Bottom line: Alex Rodriguez has gotten a pass because he has performed. As with many other troublesome athletes in American sports today: if you can play well, you will be forgiven for anything-apparently that includes besmirching the integrity of the game you are being paid millions to play.
The Alex Rodriguez treatment gets even odder when we consider the vindictive nature of Baseball prior to the Steroid Era. Consider the likes of Pete Rose and Joe Jackson; both are banned from baseball-Rose is still among the living, but Shoeless Joe is long since dead. Rose was banned for betting, as a manager, on baseball games. Jackson was banned by proxy for the “Black Sox” Chicago White Sox team intentionally took a dive for a payout. Rose did indeed bet on baseball, but never as a player, and never on circumstances that would see him benefit from the Reds losing. Jackson by all measures of statistical performance did not appear to be in on the fix.
The Commissioner’s Office has been very clear on both Rose and Jackson, no reinstatement. Period. Now, with the time served approach to A-Rod, Major League Baseball has fractured itself into a massive hypocrite. Bet on baseball as a manager independent of playing or have your entire team cheat around you? You’re gone for life without any reinstatement. Cheat and lie about taking drugs that directly impact your performance and ability to be successful at baseball? It’s ok, take a year off. Then, you’re good.
If it’s not clear in the above, Baseball’s position on A-Rod is untenable. Two of the greatest players the game has ever seen are being held out of Cooperstown for activities nowhere near as seedy as the behavior exhibited by Rodriguez. He has lied, manipulated, and Baseball finally caught him. And in backing Rodriguez, Baseball now has a multi-front war to fight. Before, purism ruled the day and Rodriguez would be persona non grata. Baseball has engineered an ultimatum for itself; either A-Rod gets crushed like the other cheaters in the game’s history in terms of HOF balloting, or the hard line against the likes of Rose and Jackson must give way. Major League Baseball cannot have it both ways. The current position is untenable. A tough decision has to be made, and we as fans must raise our standards for exactly how much we’re willing to let a player redeem himself. We’ve gone soft on A-Rod and it has the potential to spur consequences down the line, many unpleasant and unforeseen.
We can’t let players like Rodriguez off the hook so easily. We’re supposed to be better than that. Baseball is supposed to be better than that.
If Major League Baseball wants to be a hypocrite, there are far better guys to do that with than Alex Rodriguez.