This is the Honestly of the Week that I never wanted to write.
Any of you out there who know me probably know who it’s going to.
That’s right. This double dose of damnation goes to one of my absolute favorite people, one of my biggest obsessions, and one of my most consistent fascinations. This guy.
Bare with me, kids, because this is going to be one long post.
I never considered myself a real fan of any team in any sport at any time in my life. Professional sports just never captivated me the way film, television, and theater did. I even played baseball for five years back when I was just a lil’ pooka. I wasn’t very good, but I had my fun. When I outgrew Little League, my bat and glove went into storage, and with them any interest I had in baseball. To say that I went to half a dozen baseball games between sixth grade and my college graduation would be a generous estimate. If I was ever in Flushing Meadows or the Bronx, I was more interested in the hot dogs and soft-serve in little plastic batting helmets than how many games back the home team was from clinching the play-offs.
Then, in 2007, essentially on a dare, I started following the Yankees. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that I was transformed from skeptical observer to rabid fanatic, but transformed I was. Before the All-Star break, I had an entire dresser drawer set aside for Yankee gear, and I thought nothing of paying to see three games in a week when it looked like there wasn’t going to be a post-season in 2007. On days with afternoon games, I would disappear from my desk for up to twenty minutes at a time to sit in the conference room and watch the game, shouting and carrying on as if I were home in my apartment. If I saw someone walking the streets of New York or in a Hoboken bar with a scarlet B on their hat, my blood pressure doubled.
Just as I can’t give you a precise time and place for my baptism in pinstripes, I can’t single out the moment I became so enthralled by A-Rod. I had not been completely ignorant of his existence, mind you. I knew who he was: the Boy Wonder of baseball; the Hall of Fame shoe-in; a once-in-a-generation player; the highest profile acquisition by the Yankees since Reggie Jackson or, dare I say it, The Babe himself. I knew who he was. I just didn’t care. Until 2007.
Something about him just captivated me. It was all superficial, at first: his incredible feats on the field, his tabloid-ready exploits of off it, none of it made any less hypnotizing by his maddeningly unfair good looks. But the more I watched him and learned about him, the deeper my fascination became. Each time he’d step up to the plate, I wondered what was going through his mind. In post-game interviews, I watched the gears turn in his head as he carefully, haltingly answered reporters’ questions. Baseball had looked so deceptively simple, but there was clearly more going on here. Here was a man who’s entire life had been based around one activity, one talent. Here was a man who had become an astonishing success in one of the most select professions on the planet. Here was a man who had been told repeatedly from a time before he could legally purchase alcohol that he could be and very well would be the best person to ever do what he can do. This was a staggering concept. What does that do to a person, I wondered. How do you handle that?
Now I know that living in that mindset leads you to do some pretty stupid things.
During baseball season, the outcome of the Yankees’ game one day tends to determine my mood for the following one. So it has been most days since Alex Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his time with the Texas Rangers. I first saw the story online late at night on February 7, when I finally got home from a pair of birthday parties. I just assumed I was drunk and imagining things and went to bed. If only. By the time I was back in the gym with Jason the following Tuesday, I could barely focus. There he was, looming over me on every flat-screen in the gym, with guilt and thinly-veiled resentment all over his face. I felt disappointed, insulted, and betrayed; and then I felt angry for letting a damn baseball player manipulate my feelings as if I were some six year old swinging at the tee in my backyard. It was the first time I really understood what being a fan is, and the first time I regretted it.
What makes it worse is that this case is far from closed. By virtue of his stature within the game, his current employment with one of the most reviled teams in the nation, his incredibly public private life, and his own decidedly strange and exceedingly fragile personality, the media will continue to pick and gnaw at this carcass until there is nothing left. The fact that his statements of the past few days have already proved not to have been the most genuine and forthright only adds fuel to the fire. The more holes that are poked in his confessions, the less patience baseball fans are going to have for hearing them. People are going to want him to be punished. The problem is that no one can punish him. The Yankees can’t do anything because he wasn’t juicing on their watch. For them to retroactively bench him would be ludicrous. It’s already been made abundantly clear, time and time again, that Bud Selig and the administrative body of Major League Baseball itself wields absolutely no power over the matter. What’s said of the month of March can be said of the Mitchell Report: in like a lion, out like a lamb. Can you point to any lasting reforms or punishments that resulted from that imitation McCarthyism, aside from the monumental mutual waste of time suffered by United States senators and former baseball players?
For those who seek punishment for A-Rod, I ask why him? Why not any others? Andy Pettitte fessed up to his past abuses of HGH, but couched it with a hint of martyrdom by saying that he was recovering from an injury at the time. Almost a year ago today, he reported to spring training, repentant and apologetic. By Opening Day, no one could remember why they had been so incensed mere months before. And now, $5.5 million later, he’s down at Spring Training again, throwing curve balls to someone who committed the same crime, but is facing a far more vehement persecution. Why? Because Alex is the best. He’s a living legend. And the only thing people like more than creating a hero is destroying one.
Granted, Alex has clearly done most of the heavy lifting in demolishing his Olympian status himself. He knowingly engaged in practices that he knew could do great harm to his body, that could irrevocably stain his career, and which ran counter to the spirit of the game with which he had willfully become synonymous with. He kept these indiscretions secret and was, arguably, determined to do so for the rest of his life. When accused of cheating, he lied and denied it. He only admitted his wrongdoing when the evidence against him was too large to ignore, and even then he withheld pertinent details from his confession.
Alex, you weren’t the reason I rediscovered baseball two years ago, but you were the reason I fell in love with it. When I saw you knock your 500th home run into the stands behind the left field wall from field level on the first base line, it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. I saved everything from that day, as well as the next day’s front page, and had it made into a collage which hangs prominently in my apartment. What’s it worth to me now, Alex?
You have no one but yourself to blame for this. But you are fortunate, because the world of sports is an excellent arena for redemption. Let that be your focus this season.
Honestly, Alex Rodriguez. Honestly…