Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Boo? Jeer? A-Rod isn't worth the energy

He's the most hated man in sports.

He's a cheater and a liar, and if that isn't bad enough, he's a New York Yankee.

And he's here in town.

Alex Rodriguez will be at Tropicana Field tonight and through the weekend, playing there for the first time since appealing his 211-game suspension for violating baseball's drug agreement and labor contract.

What was that violation? Simply put, Major League Baseball, and pretty much anyone who follows the game, believes he is a steroid juicer who has compiled some of the most impressive numbers in history thanks to performance-enhancing drugs.

That, combined with a vile blend of narcissism, ignorance and stubbornness, have turned him into sports' most infamous villain.

The thing is, our hatred for Rodriguez exceeds his sins.

He's not surly like Barry Bonds. He's not vindictive like Lance Armstrong. And he certainly isn't anything like O.J. Simpson.

He has never been busted for pulling a gun or driving drunk or slapping a woman. As far as we know, he has never kicked a puppy, been rude to a kid asking for an autograph or even removed the do-not-remove tag from a mattress.

Though clearly self-absorbed and ego-driven, he still can be charismatic, thoughtful, warm and engaging.

So why do we hate him so? Why is the disdain for him worse than it is for the dozens of other players caught up in steroid scandals? Why do we abhor him more than we do athletes who commit far worse crimes than sticking a needle in their rear end to hit baseballs a little bit farther?

Part of the reason is that his peers seem to dislike him so much. You almost never hear players en masse publicly criticize a player on another team, regardless of the transgression. Yet, it's now open season on A-Rod.

The Rays' Evan Longoria doesn't think Rodriguez should be playing. Pitcher John Lackey of the Red Sox said the same thing. Lackey's teammate Ryan Dempster was so irritated that he drilled Rodriguez with a pitch in a game Sunday, earning himself applause from fans and a five-game suspension from Major League Baseball he didn't even bother to appeal.

Those are just a few of the public displays of contempt for A-Rod. Behind the scenes, the remarks about Rodriguez and the anger toward him are worse. When the players are leading the charge, it's easy for the rest of us — the media and the public — to pick up pitchforks and torches.

We haven't always hated Rodriguez, you know. Once upon a time, A-Rod was to be our hero, the man who would wipe away the stain of the steroid era by becoming the greatest player of all time and doing it cleanly. Someday, we hoped, he would surpass Bonds as baseball's home run leader and give us a home run king we could be proud of, a player never associated with performance-enhancing drugs.

A-Rod seemed like a good egg. We liked him. More important, we believed in him.

Turns out, A-Rod wasn't clean. He failed his first drug test in 2003, well before anyone suspected him. All those years he was lying to us, and we bought it. That is why we feel so betrayed now.

There's more to this hatred. As much as we would like to think money has nothing do with it, hard-working folks struggling to get by loathe a man with such gifts who still took shortcuts and cheated his way to an already-earned $353 million, with $114 million left on his contract.

And finally, maybe more than everything else, there's this:

Rodriguez seems so completely unaware of why he is so disliked. He seems oblivious to why he is in trouble, not only under baseball's rules but in the court of public opinion.

He's tone deaf to criticism and so self-involved that he believes he is the victim. Deep down, he seems to believe that if he just keeps smiling and hitting homers and protesting his innocence with shrugs and a bunch of "We'll sees'' and "I don't knows'' and "It's time to move ons'' that he not only will be vindicated but someday celebrated as baseball's greatest player instead of its most reviled.

He thinks he can play his way out of this.

In some quarters he has. Many with New York accents applaud Rodriguez. He might be a cheater, but he is their cheater.

The rest of us, however, see Rodriguez for what he is: a fraud who has compromised the integrity of the game.

So what should happen tonight?

Will the Rays seek a little frontier justice like the Red Sox and give A-Rod a fastball in the ear? Rays manager Joe Maddon said the players should not be baseball's judge and jury.

And Maddon is right. Besides, giving A-Rod a baseball sandwich would make him only a victim.

The fans are a different story. Buying a ticket does give you the right to judge and dish out your own punishment.

So how should you react when Rodriguez steps into the batters' box?

You could boo. You could jeer. You could yell out a few PG-rated insults. That's all fair.

You could get up and walk out into the concourse, refusing to watch Rodriguez.

You could hold a program in front of your face, visibly ignoring his every move.

Those things, however, would be strong reactions to his actions and would only feed Rodriguez's already enormous ego.

The best way to combat a narcissist? Treat him like you would any other player. Treat him like he was just another guy. Give him the same attention you would give some prospect just up from the minors.

Treat him with indifference.

Maybe then Rodriguez would truly understand that, yes, we are offended by his actions and annoyed by his behavior, but more than that, we are tired of his act. We are over this story. We just want him to go away.

Believe it or not, we really don't want to hate A-Rod anymore.

We would much rather never think of him again.

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