Why I can’t quit A-Rod

First of all, I’m not an Alex Rodriguez apologist. He’s done numerous stupid things and has earned much of the scorn he has received.

However, it seems Rodriguez has been subjected to greater scrutiny and abuse by sportswriters and fans than any other player. Whether that’s justified may be a matter of opinion, but it seems the media have gone overboard in their portrayals of A-Rod as a player uniquely deserving of flagellation.

Why don’t I have the same feelings of derision toward Rodriguez? I think it’s a combination of an admiration of the major league talent he demonstrated at such an early age and a reflex response to the overabundance of abuse he has received for more than a decade.

Let’s look at some of the highlights and lowlights of A-Rod’s career—both on and off the field—and what the general reaction has been.

The phenom

When Rodriguez came up to the majors, he was, quite simply, a revelation. After being selected first overall in the 1993 amateur draft, he made his big league debut with the Mariners less than a year later, a few weeks before his 19th birthday. He did very poorly in his 17-game visit to the majors, and he wasn’t much better the next year in 48 games, but that all was about to change.

A-Rod was the starting shortstop for the 1996 Seattle squad, and all he did was lead the American League in batting average (.358), runs scored (141), doubles (54), and total bases (379). He also chipped in 36 home runs, 123 RBI, and 15 stolen bases, earning an All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger award and second place in the MVP voting, a mere three points behind Juan Gonzalez.

That was the first season of a five-year reign of terror in the Northwest against opposing pitchers, and it was part of a four-season span in which Seattle had a peerless Big Three hitter combo of Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez.

They were a bit like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, or Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. However, unlike those basketball combinations, in which there’s a clear pecking order, things were more blurred in Seattle. Sure, Griffey was the most marketable major league player at the time, but when only on-field performance was considered, A-Rod was his equal during that stretch.

As a bonus, Rodriguez was putting up fantastic numbers for a dirt cheap salary. But, boy, was that about to change.

The contract

This was the beginning of the era of A-Rod hate. And what did he do to earn the verbal and written attacks rained upon him? Why, he had the nerve to accept money offered to him.

Sure, the amount was a record-shattering $252 million over 10 years, but let me ask this: if you were presented with an offer like that, what would you do? Would you demur and request a smaller sum due to your sacrificial nature? Sure, I suppose it’s possible, and maybe it would have allowed the Rangers to have a better overall team.

But why was Rodriguez’s acceptance of the deal viewed as such an awful thing on his part? Why not blame the owner for giving him such a huge contract? Probably largely because, while every baseball fan knew who A-Rod was, most fans couldn’t have cared less that it was Tom Hicks signing the checks in Arlington. And who wants to take their jealousy and frustration out on an anonymous owner when they could target the game’s best player?

It’s been a dozen seasons since Rodriguez signed that mega-deal, and no player has yet matched it. This could mean a couple of things. One, perhaps he truly was overpaid. It’s possible, but it also could mean that owners have clamped down on salaries in response to this deal, using it as a marker not to exceed despite 12 years of inflation and a massive increase in MLB’s revenues.

Whatever the repercussions of this pact, blaming Rodriguez for taking the money offered to him was absurd.

The Esquire interview

Here’s one of the first faux pas directly attributable to A-Rod. He shoved his foot deep down his throat by speaking poorly of one of the game’s most respected players, Derek Jeter. The first self-destructive comment was, “Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him. He’s never had to lead.” This was followed quickly by, “You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie and O’Neill. You never say, ‘Don’t let Derek beat you.’ He’s never your concern.”

How dumb was it to say these things? Incredibly. How accurate were his comments? Not very. What was the source of them? Probably jealousy. Sure, A-Rod had the biggest contract in the game, but Jeter had his own huge deal, the largest media market as his playground, and postseason success Rodriguez could only dream of.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Of course, lots of people thought the interview was a big mistake, but when you tick off essentially the entire population of the nation’s largest city, you’ve earned many enemies, and New York sports fans do not have short memories. It was a bad move, not a reprehensible one, but it put A-Rod in the Big Apple’s doghouse, a position he would occupy 81 games a year in the near future.

The trade

Three years into Rodriguez’s contract, Texas was going nowhere and figured it could finish last with or without the game’s top-paid player. So the Rangers looked into trade options that would free them of A-Rod’s onerous salary.

Do you recall where Texas first was going to send him and what the circumstances were? Recall it was Boston that first had a tentative agreement in place to acquire Rodriguez. The hold-up was, of course, that contract. But wait a minute—he was willing to surrender a big chunk of that pact to enable the trade to go through. That sure sounds like a sacrifice, even if $28 million was a small percentage of his overall deal.

The trade fell through because the Rangers wanted too much back in terms of talent and financial assistance, so Texas began a two-step with the other financial juggernaut on the Northeast, the Yankees. Yep, A-Rod was about to go home—where he was anything but welcome.

New York could absorb the salary; that wasn’t an issue. The big dispute was where to play the Gold Glove-winning shortstop and reigning MVP. On any other team, you keep him at shortstop, but when the incumbent is Jeter … well, there are other considerations besides the ideal defensive alignment.

Jeter had long been the toast of the town, and if he wasn’t in charge of the team officially, his opinions sure held a lot of sway. And Jeter had no intention of moving off shortstop, even though nearly every analyst—and non-Yankees fan—recognized that A-Rod was the better shortstop. Jeter could have slid over to second or third base, but his pride and ego won out, so it was Rodriguez who shifted to the hot corner.

Did anyone call Jeter out for his stance? No way. Instead, more approbation was directed his way while many questioned the temerity of A-Rod for daring to show up in town to show up their beloved Jeter. Rodriguez deferred to Jetes, but he still couldn’t win. It’s almost like people didn’t want to like him…

The ladies

The comparisons between the two men on the left side of the Yankees infield continued off the field, as well. Jeter has dated Mariah Carey, Minka Kelly and others. Rodriguez lists Madonna, Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz among his past girlfriends. Jeter is reputed to give gift baskets containing autographed baseballs to overnight visitors. Rodriguez has been seen in compromising situations while married and has hit on women from the dugout.

Yes, A-Rod’s actions once again fall into the category of “Dude, don’t be an idiot,” while Jeter’s are more along the lines of, “Really? Really???” But while Jeter’s indiscretions are snickered over and then glossed over, A-Rod’s are fodder for jokes that stretch on for years. From just about the beginning, the narrative was: Jeter = class, A-Rod = tool. Despite the miles of distinction and nuance between these two extremes, these two players are nearly always portrayed as polar opposites.

Busted

Up to this point, despite several missteps—both real and perceived—I didn’t get the distaste so many people had for Rodriguez. Now, however, the floodgates opened and righteous opprobrium flowed unabated. Evidence had surfaced that A-Rod has used performance-enhancing drugs during his time with the Rangers.

Eventually, A-Rod was forced to admit he had used, though he clarified that he had done so only during his years in Texas. Sure. After years of questionable disdain from millions of fan, Rodriguez now clearly had the scarlet “S” plastered across his chest. He would be booed loud and long, just like every other player guilty of steroid usage. For example, Manny Ramirez.

What’s that? Not every known PED user has been reviled? Some, such as Manny, have been roundly cheered upon their return? Just when I finally think I have the general public’s rationale figured out, the people throw me yet another curveball.

The suspension

Finally we come to the present day. Ryan Braun has been busted and is serving a 65-game suspension, though the specifics of why it’s not 50 games still remain a bit cloudy to me. Oh, yeah, Braun got extra time off because he lied about his usage. That’s had never happened before. Ummm…

Of course, we have the precedent of Melky Cabrera, who received the standard 50-game ban despite setting up a fake web site in an attempt to hide his guilt. Hey, that’s all right, nothing out of the ordinary that’s deserving of additional disincentive for future fools.

Rodriguez gets the extra-special treatment, though, a proposed 211-game unpaid vacation through the end of the 2014 regular season. Why? Well, there are tons of rumors out there detailing all the tawdry misdeeds of Mr. Rodriguez. And it’s possible that many of them are true. But a 200-plus game suspension has never been handed down before, so MLB better have plenty of hard evidence if it’s going to stick.

If there’s one person in professional baseball less sympathetic than A-Rod, it’s Bud Selig, and he sure seems to be getting vindictive about things in his old age. Braun embarrassed his former franchise, so he gets a 15-game bonus ban. Rodriguez and his litany of mistakes are Bud’s primary target now. While Selig didn’t go for the jugular with an attempted permanent suspension, he has taken the fight to A-Rod. Again, he better have his ducks in a row, or he’s in danger of looking like an ass once again.

The end

No, this isn’t the finale to Rodriguez’s career. In fact, last night was his first game in the bigs this season, and he’s guaranteed at least two more contests before his appeal is addressed. In fact, his very first at-bat resulted in a base hit—just like Jeter!

But what this really is, is the beginning of the end for Alex Rodriguez. He’s going to get suspended, and deservedly so, for some time. Will it be 50 games? 100? 150? 211? Who knows?

When he does return to the field post-suspension, fans won’t have forgotten him, but many will have moved on. His feats won’t be marveled upon. Instead, the nearly inevitable home run No. 660, which will tie him with Willie Mays, won’t be celebrated. Instead, there will be countless stories about the $6 million dollar bonus he gets for reaching that milestone, columns about how he doesn’t deserve the money or the attention.

And maybe he doesn’t, but the Yankees probably are going to save well over $6 million during his suspension, so there’s a silver lining in this for them. (Because the poor Yankees need the salary relief to get under next year’s luxury tax, y’know.)

Once that aborted celebration is complete, Rodriguez probably will play out the string, maybe in New York or maybe in another city. Perhaps some small fraction of the taint of his transgressions would be washed away with a new start. Maybe a trade to Miami in 2015 or ’16 would take him closer to his current home and out of the bright lights of the big city.

And soon afterwards, A-Rod’s career will be over. He’ll disappear into the background, another cautionary tale for those who would think about cheating the system to get ahead. His Hall of Fame candidacy will come up again five years later, and those who have no grudge against PED users will support his induction. But the vitriol Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, et al have received will pale compared to the debasement Rodriguez’s stats will receive. If he ever gets into Cooperstown, it will be several decades from now.

So we’re nearly finished with A-Rod, though there’s so much more coming. The appeal could be lengthy and incredibly enlightening. He’s under contract through 2017, and there will be thousands of articles written about Rodriguez between now and then, and for years afterwards.

But for lots of folks, they’ve had enough of A-Rod. Fairly or not, in the eyes of many, he’s done.

References & Resources
Baseball-Reference.com is always so helpful with the numbers.


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Greg has been a writer and editor for both The Hardball Times website and Annual since 2010. In his dreams, he's the second coming of Ozzie Smith. Please don't wake him up.
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Professor Longnose
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Professor Longnose
I’m no fan of Rodriguez, Selig, PEDs, and a whole host of other things. I can’t come down on any side of the issue because it always puts me in bed with someone I don’t like. So I’m not arguing your main point, but there are a couple of things you say that I’d object to. First, this (and it’s about the 50 billionth time I’ve read it, so I may be a little more miffed at it than you personally deserve): let me ask this: if you were presented with an offer like that, what would you do? Would… Read more »
TK
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TK

You did not mention anything regarding A-Rod’s alleged purchasing of documents from Biogenesis as to circumvent MLB’s authority.  Was this by design?

Big Time Timmy Jim
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Big Time Timmy Jim
How about some other reasons to hate A-Rod, such as his incredibly visible and incredibly assholish personality? How about slapping Arroyo’s glove? How about yelling at infielders to drop balls while he’s running? His smug interviews? The fact that he repeatedly lied about everything? Look, I’m tired of this whole situation. I really don’t care about him, his steroid use, if it’s “bad for the game”, or whatever. But don’t go out and try to make some case that he’s been vilified for no reason. Right or not, there have been plenty of incidents which have cemented his reputation as… Read more »
Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
I don’t think A-Rod has been vilified for no reason, but the level of hatred seems overblown.  Maybe he is an asshole but he hasn’t (1)killed anyone, either intentionally or through driving drunk; (2)lost anyone’s life savings by manipulating the financial system; (3) run a company into the ground, costing thousands of people their jobs; (4)sent anyone off to war; (5) harassed women in the locker room (at least as far as we know); or (6) made racist/homophobic public comments.  I realize this is sort of damning him with faint praise, but it seems to me that A-Rod has become… Read more »
Greg Simons
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Greg Simons
Professor – I agree that not everyone would want/need that $252 million contract, and I could have worded my remarks better, maybe something like, “How many of us would decline such a deal?”  I’d like to think that if I had been in a remotely similar position, I’d have taken whatever reasonable contract the St. Louis Cardinals offered and been extraordinarily content, but one never knows… I do find it interesting that Boras was Greg Maddux’s agent, too, and no one views him as a greedy jerk, so there’s certainly some personality at play, too. You touched on a couple… Read more »
Greg Simons
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Greg Simons
TK – While I certainly framed this as a “sympathy for the devil” article, I didn’t intentionally omit his alleged attempt to document buy and destroy the documents. This is a serious accusation, so I’d rather not jump into this fray without further evidence.  I’ve just about gotten to the end of my rope with A-Rod, and if he did this, he ought to be concerned with more than just MLB.  I don’t know what the govt. is doing regarding Biogenesis, and I’m no lawyer, but this could be evidence tampering. I do find it interesting that MLB also allegedly… Read more »
Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

Big Time Timmy Jim – I didn’t try to “make some case that he’s been vilified for no reason.”

My first paragraph said, “First of all, I’m not an Alex Rodriguez apologist. He’s done numerous stupid things and has earned much of the scorn he has received.”

My point is that, from the moment he signed his mega-contract, A-Rod has had a target on his back, and every following transgression has been magnified.

Yes, he’s a jerk.  Clearly.  I just think the perception of him as such was blown out of proportion over a decade ago, and it’s grown exponentially.

Professor Longnose
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Professor Longnose

Thanks for taking my comments in the spirit in which they were intended.

You’re right about Greg Maddox, and others Boras represented. (Bernie Williams comes to the mind of this Yabnkee fan.) I’d have to agree that it’s personality making the difference.

I wonder if Cubs fans hate Maddox.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

Maddux actually took less from the Braves than he could have gotten from the Yankees because, apparently, he did not want to play there.

frivoflava29
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frivoflava29
The reason Boras is vilified so is because he is widely perceived, perhaps only somewhat arguably, as the sole driving force behind the inflation of big MLB contracts to their modern heights. In the United States, it’s true that you’re an A-Rod level jerk if you don’t at least pretend to not care about money. Accept the 252mil and shrug it off. Don’t flaunt it, else you automatically inspire the rage of a jealous nation. This is where, yeah, of course personality is going to come into play—Maddux clearly loved the game, played efficiently beyond his physical capabilities for a… Read more »
Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

Marc – I understand why people admire players who take less to play where they want to – Maddux, Dustin Pedroia, etc.  However, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong in a player seeking the most money.  Yes, the attitude and excuses – taking care of his family – can be very grating and disingenuous, but seeking top dollar is important to some people.  My guess is that for A-Rod it was a validation of his talent.

John Fain
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John Fain

You are right about ARod when he came up.  Also he was on his way to being the greatest SS that ever played (kind of like the “best there ever was or ever will be”) but that was not good enough for him so, like Bonds he cheated to make himself even better and there is really no reason to make me think he quit after 2003.  So, like Bonds, all of his accomplishments are tainted.  I hope he and Selig go away.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
Greg, I agree with you that there is nothing inherently wrong with taking the top dollar. But there is also nothing inherently admirable in doing it either, especially given the amounts we are talking about. Not everything is relative; if I’m making $100,000 and take a new job making $150,000, that’s a significant change in lifestyle.  If, on the other hand, I’m making $15 million, my life isn’t going to change much if I’m making $25 million.  It’s like the old saying about nuclear weapons; at some point, you are just making the rubble bounce.  I understand that there is… Read more »
Hobbes
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Hobbes
I agree with so many things that have been said here and there is one point that always fascinate me. Wasn’t the original ‘The Contract’ essentially worth it? And given the contracts we have seen signed in the last couple years isn’t that kind of remarkable? If you take out the opt out the contract he accumulated 69.6 War (per FG)over the 10 years in the contract which means he was an average 7 War player for the extent of the contract and his 3 low years were 2006 (3.9) and 2009 and 10 (4 and 3.8). So he had… Read more »
Professor Longnose
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Professor Longnose

Hobbes, that’s a very interesting point.

Hank G.
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Hank G.

Where Arod lost me is when he found himself on a team with a better shortstop and refused to move to another position for the good of the team.

I’ve got my facts straight, don’t I?

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
Greg, I would certainly never suggest that a player, if he is going to leave anyway, should turn down money if it is offered.  However, if I really wanted to play in a particular place, I might take less as Greg Maddux did.  But, no, I would not have expected A-Rod to save the Rangers from themselves. On the other hand, when players leave a comfortable situation for the top-dollar,it often seems to not work out for either the player or the team-at least on the field.  Ask Jason Bay how his career has gone recently.  Professor Longnose: IMO, Boras… Read more »
Professor Longnose
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Professor Longnose

Greg,

I’m not sure who you’re arguing with. I said Boras wasn’t responsible for the increase in salaries. I only think he turned fans off, which is understandable because fans root for teams and Boras often works against teams’ interest, and does so in ways that are not warm and fuzzy.

Clearly within the economic structure we live in, he was doing his job and doing it well. Whether that is the best of all possible worlds is a question larger than this blog can handle.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

frivoflava29 – I don’t agree that Boras is “the sole driving force behind the inflation of big MLB contracts to their modern heights.”  I think the main reason players are making so much money is because MLB is bringing in tons of money, and it’s going to either the owners or the players (and a relatively small amount to the rest of the staff).  Boras is getting his clients as much of the pie as he can, which is one of the key aspects of his job.

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy

Funny how we like to cast people’s pay (which, really, they don’t have much control over: They can make all the demands they want, but a seller with no buyer is a poor man) in moral terms.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons
Marc – I agree there’s nothing inherently admirable in taking top dollar.  And I think we’re looking at this slightly differently.  You’re talking about a player leaving one team (A-Rod & Seattle, Pujols & St. Louis) for another for strictly monetary reasons – which is a valid point.  I was considering the possibility of A-Rod taking a lesser amount from the Rangers and Pujols from the Angels. A player can switch teams and also not take the top dollar (maybe wanting to play near home), just as a player can stay where he is and get the best deal –… Read more »
Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

Hobbes – thanks for the excellent back-of-the-envelope math.  That’s a great point.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

Hank G. – I’ll have to do some fact-checking, but I think something’s not quite right about your statement…

Phil
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Phil

Good article.  Looking at the positive I have 2 things.  Jeter should’ve moved to 2B or 3B.  It speaks to how great a player Arod is to be successful at 3B and SS. 

And if he would’ve gone to Boston he would’ve been loved.  Especially playing on any of the WS winners.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

Marc – I’ve seen it suggested that free agents tend to do better overall when they’re retained by their team vs. signing with a different team.  The theory is that teams know their own players better than other teams do, so if they’re willing to let someone sign elsewhere, they have good reasons for letting him go.  Bay is a good example, as is B.J. Upton so far.

Prof – Was you last post directed at me or Marc?  I was directing my earlier comments at frivoflava29.

mando3b
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mando3b
What a great dialogue! You guys pretty much have everything covered here, but I would like to add my 2¢ worth . . . The problem with Scott Boras isn’t that “he gets his clients top dollar”—it’s how he goes about it and how he makes his clients look. J.D. Drew is the poster boy for the negative side of SB’s approach: SB told everybody that JDD was so very good that he deserves to bypass the draft and more or less choose where he wants to play; he then stiffed the team that drafted him (the Phillies) and ostentatiously… Read more »
Bill
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Bill
Ignoring everything about personalities, money, antics etc… I think that Selig’s ban is BS. Its insane to up and hand out a 211 game ban which is way above anything anyone else received. Unless he has some kind of evidence up and above a) doing PED’s and b) lying about it, A-Rod will get 50 games. There is no precedent for it and the Players Union will have a field day getting it reduced back down to 50. Selig should have had the balls to hand out mega bans years ago, but he waited till a real hate figure came… Read more »
Professor Longnose
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Professor Longnose

Boras certainly isn’t responsible for the huge increase in money in the sport, but he probably did as much as any one person in his time to put a bad face on it. If Boras had been a spokesperson for puppies, I think a lot of people would have turned against them.

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