Sunday, May 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

A-Rod can't suspend consequence of massive ego

He is desperate now, barely hanging on in the twilight of his withered career. He is defiant, stubborn in the face of his latest scandal. For all of his transgressions, he will not go quietly.

These are the lasting images of Alex Rodriguez, cheater.

As usual, all he wants is a better deal.

That's what A-Rod does, right? He opts out of a $252 million deal, and he signs one for $275 million. He turns a princely sum into a king's ransom. Even now, he wants a better suspension, an improved disgrace, fewer suspended games to smear his reputation. Of course he does.

Rodriguez was hit with a 211-game suspension Monday, and a few hours later, he played in a baseball game. It figures. The guess is that he will spend the rest of this season in appeal, and by then, maybe the 211 number is reduced to 162 or so, which saves the guy a lot of coin. There is money on the table, and by golly, when A-Rod walks away, he's going to grab a couple of fistfuls on his way out the door.

This is not about baseball. It hasn't been for a long time. It is not about a reputation that was shredded a while ago. This is about ego, and about self-delusion, and about the money remaining on his contract.

Once again, baseball has found him guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. There were others: a dirty dozen were suspended earlier in the day Monday. That makes it sound like a bold, decisive day for the game, but remember this: For all of the new, improved testing, none of these guys failed a drug test. That says a lot about drugs, and a lot about testing.

The big catch is Rodriguez, repeat offender. Reportedly, Rodriguez was prepared to admit his guilt and cut a deal. Just not this deal. A-Rod is close enough to the end that he doesn't want to give away the rest of this season, when he is 38, and all of next, when he turns 39.

Sigh. This is why Rodriguez has become the most unpopular man in the history of the sport, worse than Barry Bonds, worse than Roger Clemens, worse than Pete Rose, worse than Shoeless Joe Jackson. He was never a beloved figure, but until his drug sins, you could argue that his unpopularity far outweighed the reasons for it.

People have always liked disliking A-Rod. Whether it was Rodriguez kissing the mirrored image of himself in Esquire, or running across the mound in Oakland, or slapping the ball from Boston's Bronson Arroyo in the playoffs, or the fun times with Madonna, or yelling to make Toronto's Howie Clark drop a popup, or the centaur paintings in his home, there has always been something not quite genuine about him.

Much of the time, it was just Rodriguez creating his own pratfalls. As far as projecting an image, the guy couldn't get out of his own way.

Now? Now there is a reason for the disgust. He is a hollow man, and he surrendered his natural ability to the chemical kind. Has this guy ever been clean?

Rodriguez got off easy after his first admission of steroids; he was never suspended a day. This time, even if he is able to whittle that 211-game suspension down, no one will ever look at Rodriguez quite the same way again.

Look, cheating is never permissible, but there are times that it is at least understandable. Say a guy is trying to break into the big leagues, and he hears that the stars of the game are users. Say a guy is trying to get his first big contract, and he hears that the pitchers are juicing. Say a guy believes that everyone else is doing it, which was the case for much of the 1990s. It doesn't forgive the drugs, but at least, you can see why a player might bend to the temptation.

But here's the question for A-Rod:

Why?

It wasn't fame. The guy has enough fame for an entire league. He has 647 home runs, for crying out loud. He has been an All-Star 14 times, an MVP three times. The world knows his name.

It wasn't money. A-Rod is rich beyond dreams. So far, he has made $353 million playing baseball, and the Yankees are on the hook for another $114 million.

It wasn't prestige. He played a key position for the key team in the major leagues. He dated starlets. On its list of beautiful people, People magazine made him a regular. He had it all, the statistics, the celebrity, the place in history.

No, with Rodriguez, the only thing that makes sense is ego and the insecurity that often goes with it. His numbers have faded the past couple of seasons, and so A-Rod juiced. Everyone likes Derek Jeter better, and so A-Rod juiced. A-Rod was lousy in the postseason, a .244 hitter in his 60 Yankee payoff games. Cameron Diaz hogged the popcorn, and so A-Rod juiced.

And why not? Juicing is where the money was, and no one liked money better than A-Rod.

The first time I was around Rodriguez, he had just turned 18. He was playing for the United States in an Olympic Festival in San Antonio, Texas. I'll be honest. I thought he was a neat kid, the rare kind of kid who gets it.

That said, he liked his money. He was at the festival because he was at odds with the U.S. National Team. To play with that team, Rodriguez would have had to forfeit the rights to his first baseball card, which would have cost him "between a half-million and a million'' dollars.

He was also in negotiations with Seattle, the team that just drafted him No. 1. He wanted $2.5 million, double the contract the Mariners were offering. That day, I wrote this: "There are times when Rodriguez sounds mercenary, as if he is unwilling to catch any ball that doesn't come wrapped in a hundred-dollar bill.''

Then there was his free agent contract, the day he lost much of his substance by signing with the Rangers for $252 million. Why? Wasn't $250 million enough? Wasn't $251 million? Evidently not; three years later, he whined about losing, and he ended up with the Yankees.

The image that he is all about the cash has never left Rodriguez. Granted, every professional athlete wants to be paid, but the great players somehow allow you to forget what they are making as they play. No one ever paid attention to Michael Jordan's contract, or Joe Montana's. But with A-Rod, they never forgot.

In the end, his numbers were counterfeit, and his fame was an illusion. Rodriguez was here, but he never really mattered.

Now? He's still with us only because of an appeal.

That's odd. Who would have thought he had any left?

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