The normally-excellent Peter Gammons writes today that Alex Rodriguez’ one true hope for “redemption” is to bring a World Series title home for the Yankees. It’s a nice sentiment, one very much in line with Gammons’ the-game-is-mightier-than-all-of-us school of sportswriting. Perhaps Rodriguez can be the one who emerges victorious over not just another AL East division race steamrolled by a mighty Yankee squad but over opponents no smaller than shame and fear themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s also a patently bogus idea.
Assume for a second Rodriguez has been off the juice since arriving in New York. Assume he really learned from those mistakes he made as a lad of but 27, untrained in the ways of the world, and that everything he’s done since has been on the up-and-up. And let’s assume the Yankees dig themselves out of the ever-widening hole they’re in sturdily enough to win the Whole Darn Thing this season. Great. Awesome. Hero, redemption, all that, right?
For starters, we’re talking about the Yankees here, and it should go without saying the only people who would celebrate the Yanks’ ultimate victory would be Yankees fans; to that supposedly tough crowd, Rodriguez would join the ranks of noted heroes and heartwarming redemption stories like those of Chuck Knoblauch, Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco and Denny Neagle.
But more importantly, we have to consider how and why Rodriguez ended up a Yankee in the first place: he was the best player in the game, and the Yankees wanted him because of that.
It may very well be that he was an elite athlete without the sauce, another Barry Bonds-type case of a player with everything wanting even more, but we don’t know. We never will. And without the gaudy stats as the first-place player on the last-place team, who knows what would have become of him? Another star with a career cut short by injury? The starting shortstop for the Dodgers? Third base for the Cubs? DH for the Angels?
The idea that Rodriguez can somehow shake off the baggage that comes along with pretty much every decision he’s made by simply winning a World Series for a team every sane person hates makes even less sense under this kind of examination. They paid him for what he had done, and when all is said and done what he had really done is a whole lot of nothing.
Real, honest salvation in the eyes of the baseball gods would instead lie in the opposite direction, the one where Rodriguez not only owns up and comes clean – fully clean, not “I was young and stupid” clean – and then take the most meaningful and selfless statement step: walk away. Not Clemens or Bonds walk away, but like a samurai warrior. No apologies, no excuses, no turning back, no one on either side of the athlete-fan dynamic made to look any more foolish.
Alex Rodriguez is signed for another eight seasons following this one. What other team would take him on with all that baggage? What greatness could he possibly impart? What could he possibly have left to prove that can still be proven? That he’s can assemble an honest MVP season? That he, not Carlos Delgado or Derek Jeter was the best player of the early part of this decade? He had a chance, and he made a choice. And that was that. And now we know.
So from here on out, what could he possibly do that will matter? He might be good, but he won’t be Alex Rodriguez good. The tragedy is not that he never can be; the tragedy is that, if you think about it, he never was.