I’ve cheered for him for nearly a decade, even when a lot of Yankee fans didn’t.
I heard the petty taunts – “A-Fraud” and such silliness – and I just kept cheering. I heard the sniping about how much he was being paid, but I didn’t care – he was worth it and anyway, was he supposed to turn the money down? He’s done some weird things, for sure, through the years – knocking a ball out of the pitcher’s glove, yelling at the fielder to induce a dropped fly ball, just acting a little nutty. He said things that made you scratch your head and he always seemed to be trying just a little too hard to make everyone like him. And there were some big moments in Yankees playoff games during which he did not come through.
But there were a lot of other times when he did come through. Big moments. Clutch. The last Yankees World Championship, in 2009, likely would not have happened without A-Rod’s dramatic hits. Bottom of the ninth inning against Joe Nathan, with a man on in a 3-1 game. In the eleventh inning of game 2 of the ALCS, with the Yankees down a run, against Brian Fuentes of the Los Angeles Devils. In game 2 of the Series, with the Yankees down a game, and down 3-0 against Cole Hamels and the Phils, he hit a (instant replay-awarded) home run that turned the game and the series around. A hard double that likely put a dent in the fence in the ninth inning of game 4 against the Phillies, right after Johnny Damon famously stole second and third on the same play. That was the winning run that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead in a series which they won in 6 games.
There has probably never been a player with as much natural talent as A-Rod. He is big, and for most of his career, fast and agile. A true five-tool player. When he came to the Yankees, he was the best shortstop in baseball – in both halves of the inning. He could hit like no one has seen since perhaps the Iron Horse, or Ted, or Mickey. His skills at shortstop were unmatched. He had it all. His work ethic amazed his managers and fellow players. He even showed class by moving to third base and letting the Captain stay at short when he was traded to the Yankees. He was destined to break every record in the book and likely enter into the discussion between the Babe, Willie Mays and a couple of others as the Greatest of All Time.
Now, he is going down in history as a goat instead of a G.O.A.T. He’s a cheat. A liar. He’s Lance Armstrong. He’s Rosie Ruiz. He’s Ben Johnson. He’s a Chinese gymnast or an East German female swimmer during the Cold War. From all accounts, he is a naturally gifted athlete with a great baseball mind who would have gone down in history as a great, almost certainly made the Hall of Fame, and had an honored place in history. Now, his name will forever be associated with Biogenesis and steroids.
And I am glad. No, I’m not glad to see this man debased, but I am glad that Bud Selig (finally) is doing something about steroids. For a decade, he turned a blind eye while Sosa, McGwire, Bonds and a host of others piled up stratospheric offensive stats, all inflated by PEDs. But, though he was late to the dance, he is now going after it with all his might. And well he should.
So, this fan of A-Rod, who has cheered for him for a decade, who has loved watching him when he got the big hit or the big strikeout, is glad that they are coming down hard on him. I wished they had given him a lifetime ban. In a twist of fate, A-Rod is playing his first game of the year tonight, as he appeals his suspension. He will be roundly booed in Chicago. I’m guessing he will be roundly booed in New York. I hope so. There is no honor in his achievements or in any help the Yankees get from him from this point on.
There is no excuse for what he did, no mitigating factors. Oh, some will say that steroids is rampant in baseball (and football and cycling and probably professional poker) and that players from every team are likely dirty. Some will say that catching A-Rod and the 12 others who were suspended today is only the tip of the iceberg and that there are dozens of others who have cheated and not gotten caught. All of that is probably true. But it doesn’t change the fact that A-Rod cheated and he needs to pay the price. The only way that sports will be cleaned up is by invasive testing and harsh penalties.
Frankly, I’m getting less and less enthused about sports. I still watch and I still cheer. But I really got into watching Mark McGwire hit homeruns, only to find out he was a cheater. I actually watched Tour de France racing for several years, cheering on Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis. Cheaters. There is cheating in NASCAR. Cheating in football – college and pro. Cheating in basketball. Evidence came out this year that major soccer games have been fixed in recent years by dishonest refs.
Baseball has always had its stinkers. Ty Cobb was a racist lout. Babe Ruth never met a sin he didn’t embrace. If Mickey Mantle had stayed off the booze, he might have been the greatest ever. The Black Sox threw the world series. Spit balls. Pete Rose’s betting scandals. It’s never been a perfect game.
But this PED thing is different. It is so widespread and creates such a sense of suspicion and disbelief. When Chris Davis suddenly starts smashing home runs at an unprecedented rate, people ask questions. Last year, Derek Jeter (a man even you knee-jerk Yankee-haters find a way to respect!) found himself under suspicion because at his advanced age he was having such a good year. We watch in amazement as Usain Bolt runs faster than any other man ever has, but when the men he is beating are all caught doing PEDs, you have to wonder, don’t you? There is a cloud that hangs over the entire sports world today.
So, count me as a former fan. I will always appreciate what he has done for my beloved Yankees. But I will also wonder how much of that was A-Rod’s natural talent and work ethic, and how much of it was chemical enhancement.