Alex Rodriguez came home Monday. The wayward son’s return wasn’t as sweet as it could have, should have, would have been.
That’s because Rodriguez has become an anti-heroic personification of could have, should have, would have. He’s an object of regret.
But still an object of fascination.
As A-Rod reminisced about his childhood in Miami, his voice wavering as he described simple times practicing his swing in the backyard, he was surrounded by cameramen and reporters. When he took batting practice, fans surrounded the cage, even though he was not even in the New York Yankees’ starting lineup.
The second-largest crowd of the season watched the Marlins edge the Yankees, 2-1, and when Rodriguez came up in the ninth inning as a pinch hitter with two outs and one man on base, he was greeted with the loudest reception in recent memory at Marlins Park — a combo roar of cheers and boos. He flew out to right field.
A-Rod is a magnet, but for what? He’s a smart guy who does dumb things. Maybe everybody is waiting in anticipation of the next unendearing gaffe and new nickname for A-Fraud, A-Roid, Stray-Rod.
Rodriguez’s approach of baseball’s 3,000-hit milestone could have, should have, would have been something to celebrate. Instead, it’s something to debate.
Rodriguez’s steroid use combined with his payoffs in clumsy attempts to cover up his late-career reliance on quack Biogenesis “doctor” Tony Bosch for performance-enhancing drugs call into question how many of those 2,995 hits are legitimate.
When he cracks No.3,000, it will be unseemly to cheer him. How can anyone cheer an admitted cheater — a multi-cheater — in a sport that places so much value on its hallowed historic marks? In the same way that Rodriguez tries too hard to portray himself as sincere, his juiced stats can’t be disguised as anything but phony.
“I think what he did is dishonorable and equivalent to stealing,” said Michael Ameroso, a Miamian and lifelong Yankees fan. “He has numbers that should not be counted if the game wants to be respected. Those numbers during the periods that he admitted using steroids should be stricken from the record books.”
Ameroso’s friend, Aliandro Mayouf, defends A-Rod.
“A lot of players did it,” Mayouf said. “He got caught. The fact that he lied about it is not great, but he’s playing well and helping the team win this year without steroids. And steroids make you stronger; they don’t do anything for your hand-eye coordination. He’s a great talent no matter what.”
Barry Bonds was a great talent. So was Lance Armstrong. Like Rodriguez, they were the best at what they did, but gave in to temptation, hubris. All feared they would be eclipsed by other dopers. All became expert liars eventually undone by their hypocrisy.
Any tug of sympathy for them fades when you think about the clean athletes denied riches or a place on the podium by athletes who chose not to play by the rules. We all make mistakes; they did it with chronic and methodical deception.
“My favorite athlete of all-time was Lance Armstrong, and I had to eat that,” said Ameroso, whose favorite Yankee is Derek Jeter, the Mr. Clean foil to Rodriguez. “Sure, other Tour de France athletes were using. Sure, other baseball players were using. But cheating is cheating. I don’t like seeing Alex in a Yankees uniform. I’d rather lose with a character guy.”
Responded his friend Mayouf: “Keep living in fantasy land.” He also believes the Yankees should pay Rodriguez his $6 million bonuses for home run milestones. The man who has already made $378 million is due another $42 million through 2017.
“They agreed to it in the contract, and they knew he was doing steroids,” Mayouf said.
Rodriguez, 39, is in rarefied company these days.
He will soon become the 29th member of the 3,000-hit club. He broke Lou Gehrig’s American League record for RBI. He broke Willie Mays’ career home run mark and with 666 he’s fourth behind Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Bonds. He joined Aaron as the only players in major-league history with at least 2,000 RBI.
The 14-time All-Star — now a designated hitter playing on two surgically repaired hips — is having a better-than-expected season, batting .268 with 32 RBI and 12 homers.
His season-long suspension in 2014 for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal turned out to be good for his body.
“This year in particular I’m really enjoying playing baseball and really grateful for the support I’ve gotten,” Rodriguez said.
His homecoming prompted Rodriguez to recall his early passion for the game, how he used to watch Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez on TV, then run outside and practice 100 swings, watch another at-bat, then return to the yard for another 100 swings.
“Some people would think I’m obsessive,” he said. “Even my biggest haters would say I’m disciplined and a hard worker. Those are the same things I focused on coming back over the last year and a half, and it helped me kind of get over the hump.”
Rodriguez could have, should have, would have been adored in his hometown, where he has given back to the Boys and Girls Club where he grew up, to the youth baseball culture, to aspiring students and the University of Miami.
Rodriguez could have, should have, would have been a lock for the Hall of Fame. Unless voters change their minds, he’ll be locked out, like Bonds and Roger Clemens.
“I don’t know if it’s sad,” said Al Leiter, the former Marlins pitcher and Yankee teammate of Rodriguez. “Three thousand hits is still an amazing feat. I’m disappointed as a friend that Alex made bad decisions because he was great anyway.”
When A-Rod hits No. 3,000, don’t cheer and don’t feel sorry for him. Be disappointed for the man who could have, should have, would have been Miami’s greatest baseball star.