Years ago, when I was still cutting my teeth on websites you've never heard of—I wrote a piece about Alex Rodriguez based around Antwone Fisher's "Who Will Cry For The Little Boy." The central question was this: What has he done to make everyone hate him?
I used some statistical analysis to disprove the notion that 'he never comes through in the clutch' — and showed that he'd even been the driving force behind a few strong playoff runs. And through the last few seasons with the Yankees, even after he admitted—kind of—to using steroids, I supported him. I didn't knuckle-up for him, I've never proclaimed to be an A-Rod "fan," but the kind of "Hey, lay off. Isn't enough, enough?" defense you give to a kid in high school, or a co-worker that seems needlessly piled-upon.
The truth is, I don't like him. Never have. I grew up loving Don Mattingly, and then Paul O'Neil, and Derek Jeter. From afar I watched players like Cal Ripken, and Barry Larkin, The Wizard and Kirby Puckett I copied their stances, slapped my glove, chomped on Big League Chew—I did everything I could to look like them... because I couldn't have that ball with a tennis racket. I like hard workers and technicians, men of the craft. I like flawed players that range from good to great, the 'naturals' have never been my thing—I couldn't relate.
But I've had a soft spot for A-Rod since he landed in New York, and it's obviously not his personality that drew me in. People wax nostalgic about Mickey Mantle and how magnetic he was, A-Rod is the opposite. His robotic, almost antiseptic persona is like fan repellent. But there's something fascinating about the fact that he's been the best player on every team he's played for, hasn't gotten into fights with teammates, hasn't openly battled with coaches...and yet nobody seems to like the guy. There was this isolating and 'othering' of Rodriguez from the moment he landed in pinstripes. Fans treated it like rooting for A-Rod was somehow a slight against Jeter. It didn't seem fair.
The thing is, those feelings were predicated on one simple idea: Everything on the field was natural, everything off the field was alien. And in there - buried under the money, and the awards, and the sheer metric tonnage of statistical accumulation—there was a lonely, pitiable figure. You need him to blast a 500 foot home run? No problem. You need him to move to his right and fire a rocket to first? Easy money. But if you ask him to jump around and celebrate with other humanoids, suddenly he starts fizzling and smoking as his motherboard fries.
Of course— all of those feelings were dependent on thinking what he did on the field was natural. Now with recent allegations, and links to not-so-surprisingly scummy Miami "juvenation" centers, I'm forced to believe that Alex has been pumping himself full of everything from HGH to clean diesel. And the truth is, he's probably been doing it since high school. Alex Rodriguez, The Unnatural. On teams of Hall of Famers, his shadow loomed the largest, and yet he was somehow the only person trapped inside it.
Doesn't part of you still wonder what it was like, though? To just see the ball move slower than most, flick the bat like it was weightless, fire lasers across the diamond, and jog by other pro athletes—making millions of their own— and just know they envy you? To truly have it all... isn't that the dream? How could he have ended up 'normal'—when he was such an anomaly?
He couldn't. He didn't. It turns out, the same insecurities that bother you and me at our jobs, bothered him. An emptiness he tried to fill with with accolades — like inside traders, plagiarists, and valets that skim off the top. I don't think we'll ever see him in a Yankee uniform again. And he's definitely never seeing the Hall of Fame. His punishment is spending the next 50 years watching contemporaries he used to lord over, get canonized in baseball's holiest church. Those scrappy, flawed players I rooted for—the ones caked in the dust left by Rodriguez's vapor trail - will march past him on their way to Cooperstown.
And there's something very sad about that... but I don't care anymore.