Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate in the seventh inning Friday against the Mets and proceeded to pulverize an Elmer Dessens offering deep into the bullpen of cavernous Citi Field. It was a raw display of opposite-field power by the three-time MVP, a feat that few of his contemporaries can match.
Sure, the game had already been more or less decided by that point, and yes, Rodriguez has made hitting meaningless homers off the Elmer Dessens' of the world a cottage industry at this point. Nevertheless, the 430-foot drive was profoundly impressive; an example of the serious damage he can inflict upon the opposition.
That's the thing about A-Rod. Just when you have it in your head that he's the worst thing to ever happen to the Yankees, he performs some superhuman act that makes you realize how good the arrogant goober can be.
Look at it this way. Having A-Rod on your team is kind of like having a gleaming yellow Lamborghini parked in your garage. It may be incredibly expensive, completely impractical and more than a touch garish, but damn if it's not fun to show the sucker off to your annoying (and less wealthy) neighbors. He is the perfect symbol of the 21st century Yankees.
We may never know how truly close Rodriguez came to leaving the Yankees following his MVP 2007 season. We do know that his agent, Scott Boras, was playing serious hard ball, orchestrating the ill-conceived opt-out announcement during Game 4 of the World Series, a ploy that vilified both agent and client.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stated repeatedly that the team would not renegotiate Rodriguez's contract if he were to opt-out, and for a time it seemed the Yanks would stand by that threat.
Enter Hank Steinbrenner, cigarette in one hand, bourbon in the other, who used his nepotist influence to hold the door open for A-Rod's return. Rodriguez, predictably, came crawling back. There simply was no other team in baseball that could match his astronomical demands.
It was just a matter of paperwork from there. After the 10-year deal worth between $275 to $300 million was official, A-Rod said he wanted to remain a Yankee all along (which was probably false) and Cashman said that he was glad to have the slugger back (which was definitely false).
It was landmark signing for the franchise and the biggest indicator yet of the new face of ownership. Whereas George Steinbrenner had gained begrudging respect around the game for pumping his profits back into the team to build a contender, this non-Boss sanctioned move seemed to stink of an ulterior motive rooted in greed.
A-Rod, after all, would be a stately 42 years old by the time his contract expired in 2017. Unless he learned how to throw a knuckleball, the Yankees were destined for their highest-paid player to one day be among their most unproductive. Moneyball, this was not.
Instead, this seemed to be a case where the goals of making money and winning titles became mutually exclusive. Small budget teams often take this type of business model out of necessity, but now the Yankees were putting their own sick privileged twist on it.
In 2007, A-Rod was perceived as the white knight who would one day save the all-time home run record tainted by the blasphemous Barry Lamar Bonds. The Yankees–and partner Steiner Sports memorabilia–dreamed of a grizzled A-Rod connecting on homer No. 763, thousand dollar bills falling from Yankee Stadium's night sky as the third baseman limped around the bases like Mickey Mantle in 1967. "We'll make back that $300 million on commemorative plates alone!" club officials likely squealed with delight.
It goes without saying that the revelations of February 7, 2009, shot that all to hell.
The steroids admission had the the effect of an atomic bomb being dropped on River Avenue. Stripped of his once-iron clad marketability, A-Rod's contract immediately became an albatross as club officials were undoubtedly horrified to realize what they had now invested in.
A-Rod had gone from The Next Great Yankee to a toxic, aging slugger with known PED ties. "How can we sell crystal "763" bats when he can't even get into the Hall of Fame?"
A-Rod was suddenly the faded Lamborghini collecting rust in the garage.
The silver lining in all this is that it's not our money, not technically anyway. I, like most fans, don't really care if this particular deal went sour from a business standpoint...I'm sure Hal and Hank's trust funds are safe anyway.
I do, however, care very much about moments like Friday night at Citi Field, when you realize that A-Rod can still be an MVP-caliber player. As A-Rod goes, so too, go the Yankees–just look at how his play this season has corresponded to the team's success.
While he may already be a regrettable figure in the organization's eyes, he remains wholly capable of helping–hell, even leading–the Yankees to that elusive 27th championship.
The franchise and the star are tethered to each other well into the next decade, for better or worse. As for the fans, we're simply along for the ride, hoping this talented but damaged player can somehow get out of his own head long enough to become a champion.
It's a risky gamble, but there's no getting out now.