I don't like A-Rod. He has always struck me as an arrogant, entitled pretty boy, who never won until he played with a winner like Derek Jeter and an organization like the Yankees, and who always seemed to "choke" in the clutch. Some of that is probably wrong, and of course I don't know him personally. Those are just my impressions. Some players on opposing teams are likeable -- guys like the Pirates' Andrew McCutcheon from today's game, men like Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine or John Smoltz from earlier rival teams. Some aren't -- A-Rod, Ryan Braun, Alfonso Soriano, Bryan Harper.
But, for the life of me, I don't quite understand how A-Rod has become such a capital-V Villain for baseball fans. Has he used performance enhancing drugs? Yes. Has he lied about that use? Yes. But so have a lot of baseball players who aren't so vilified. It probably has to do with the amount of money he's made playing baseball, and the degree that money has lifted him up from being just a baseball player to being a celebrity. A-Rod seems always to have acted as if he was bigger than the game and somehow "above" the rest of us. Lots of great players didn't act that way, and even some of today's stars who make tens of millions of dollars don't act that way -- Miguel Cabrera comes to mind. But, even so... the guy hasn't murdered anyone. (See Hernandez, Aaron.)
And, of course, however much you think steroids or PEDs may have helped him in his career... they didn't help him hit .358 with 36 HRs and 123 RBIs as a twenty year-old shortstop in 1996. They may have helped at the margins later in his career, so maybe instead of 647 HRs he might have 10% fewer (582) or even 20% fewer (517), but he would still then have more HRs and more Gold Gloves at shortstop (2) than Ernie freakin' Banks!
In other words, A-Rod, however big a jerk he is, is still one of the great great great baseball players of all time. So why all the hate? Or is it something about human nature that we need to have someone to be our villain, some focus for venting our anger and hatred? Not a pretty thought.
Anyway, he's about to become the poster boy for MLB's continuing efforts to unring the bell of PEDs and its own original sin of tacitly permitting them for many years through the 1990s and early 2000s. Today he'll be suspended, likely for a year and a half, which, at 38, could be the end of his career. Sad story. And it says a lot about our own hypocrisy as a society. I wrote about this angle awhile back:
Why do we hate cheaters? Because they gain an unfair advantage over other players and distort the statistics by which we measure greatness in the game.
OK, but weren't the statistics in the 1920s and 1930s and on through most of the 1940s distorted by the fact that African-Americans weren't allowed to play in the major leagues? Didn't those white players like, oh, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby gain an unfair advantage because they didn't have to play against great Negro League pitchers in their prime like Satchel Paige? Didn't Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson have an unfair advantage because they didn't have to pitch to Josh Gibson?
And which is a worse sin, the tolerance of performance-enhancing drugs by baseball in the 1990s, or the tolerance of institutional racism in the 1920s and 1930s?
And, while I'm on the subject of performance-enhancing drugs... should colleges ask prospective students whether they have taken performance-enhancing drugs to combat attention deficit disorder (since we drug our young at an alarming rate)? Aren't their grades "distorted" because of those performance enhancing drugs?
And, of course, consider the irony that nearly every sports broadcast features advertisements for performance-enhancing drugs. "Sports Center, brought to you by Cialis!" How many of those fat, pasty-faced sportswriters finish their column lamenting performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and go home and take a Viagra tablet to enhance their own performance?
A drug-addled culture has a lot of nerve vilifying a baseball player while poisoning millions of boys with Adderal and Ritalin just so pharmaceutical companies can have a higher ROI. But that's where we are in 2013.