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Aug
12
2013

Sympathy for the Devil

In light of the Biogenesis scandal, Joe Healy feels (gasp!) sympathy for the disgraced Alex Rodriguez.

Unless you have been living under that ol’ proverbial rock (you know the one), you’ve heard by now that Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for a really long time.

The parameters of that suspension are still apparently being ironed out, but that’s neither here nor there.

No sooner than the rumblings began last week that MLB was looking seriously at handing out an unprecedented suspension to A-Rod, the venom spewed toward the shamed star came early and often.

Fans and media alike were quick to take to Twitter and sports radio to talk about what a disgrace to the game Rodriguez was. I kind of expect scathing and thoughtless remarks from fans on social media and in comments sections on articles online, but some of the things written by real, professional journalists made me embarrassed to call myself an aspiring journalist.

I understand the frustration that they must feel that a player we had all hoped would be the “clean” superstar of the 2000′s ended up being the poster child for PEDs, but to call some of the things I saw written scathing or thoughtless would be disrespectful to scathing and thoughtless writing. If you had taken the context out of some of the articles and tweets I saw, you would have assumed Rodriguez was some guy that had talked some woman named Eve into eating an apple a long time ago, if you catch my drift.

So maybe it’s in large part due to the things I have seen in print over the last few days, but as I take stock of the A-Rod situation, I can’t help but feel a little bit of sympathy for him.

Before I go any further, I should disclose where I stand on PED use in general. While I certainly would prefer sports to be 100% clean, I’m not one to get up on my high horse and go all Helen Lovejoy about it.

These players used illegal substances to get better at what they do. I’m sure selfish desires like long-term contracts and fame had something to do with it, but helping the team and winning plays a part as well, at least indirectly. I’m not sure that’s any worse than when a player that works his butt off for a big contract and then gains a bunch of weight in the offseason and loafs his way through the next season. That’s a discussion for another day, though.

***

When you get right down to it, all Alex Rodriguez has ever wanted is to be loved. I don’t mean romantically, although given his strange and disparate list of relationships, that might be true also. I’m talking about the love that is felt by a fan of a team or sport for a superstar player.

Alex has never really had a chance to enjoy that.

He was likely at this most popular when he was coming up with the Seattle Mariners in the late-90s. He quickly established himself as a star and as a future face of MLB.

But even then, there were things that kept him from being as beloved as you might have expected. On a local level, it was hard to see past who he was not.

He was never going to be Ken Griffey, Jr. The love affair the city of Seattle had with Junior was unrivaled and no one could ever match Griffey’s enthusiasm and infectious smile.

For that matter, A-Rod was never going to be Randy Johnson. The Big Unit was the embodiment of intensity and competitive fire and that appealed to the fans that wanted to see their athletes emote in that way.

Rodriguez, by comparison, was stoic and robotic, so you can see how it might have been difficult to latch on to him as a favorite player.

Things didn’t get any better once he was out of Seattle. Prior to the 2001 season, he signed with the Texas Rangers for a boatload of money and so on top of those that didn’t like his perceived lack of personality, he now had to deal with those that hated him because he was the highest-paid player in the game.

Once he was moved to the Yankees, the most hated franchise in Major League Baseball, he alienated everyone that he hadn’t already alienated. At that point, he was disliked because he was stoic, because he was still the highest-paid player in the game and because he was a Yankee.

Even in New York, he was never really accepted as a true Yankee because he was looked at as the anti-Derek Jeter. He wasn’t charming like Jeter, he wasn’t perceived as an adopted local like Jeter and most of all, he didn’t lead teams to championships like Jeter.

I can’t read minds and I’m certainly no personal confidante of Alex Rodriguez, but I honestly believe that his use of banned substances has very little to do with money and fame and everything to do with being adored.

What do you do when no one appreciates what you are doing on the field? You use PEDs and work to put up the gaudiest stats possible so everyone will have to take notice. At that point, people will have no choice to but to love you.

***

Oddly, I think Rodriguez now has his chance to feel the adoration he so craves. Sports fans love nothing more than to see pompous athletes humbled and A-Rod certainly qualifies.

If he chooses to continue to his career, he is going to have a long, long road back. A full season and then some is a long time to be out for a player in his mid-20s, much less someone in his late-30s. The odds are stacked heavily against Rodriguez even being a serviceable player in the big leagues again.

If Rodriguez loves the game, and everyone who knows him says that he does, he is going to give it a real shot, though.

I think that if he is able to wait out his suspension, fight his way back into the big leagues and be productive on some level, maybe, just maybe, fans will find it in their hearts to appreciate what he has done for once.

At the very least, I know of one fan that will feel that way, but here’s to hoping I’m not the only one.

Joseph Healy writes for The Fan Manifesto. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_On_Sports. You can follow the entire FanMan team here.

 

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