Thursday, August 5, 2010

Making Sense of Alex Rodriguez and No. 600

Alex Rodriguez hit a home run yesterday.

You may have heard about it.

He's now done this 600 times since entering the Major Leagues. Only six other players have hit that many home runs, which makes it a nearly unparalleled individual achievement in a 141-year-old game defined by individual achievement.

This should be a really big deal, but it's not.

Unless you've been in a Hard To Kill-style coma—and if that's the case, let me be the first to warn you that you're in a terrible amount of danger—you know this is because of Rodriguez's admission of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Last spring, he owned up to using steroids during a three-year period with the Texas Rangers. He gave an unflattering one-on-one interview to Peter Gammons (in which he was glowing red from a recent trip to the Bamamas), then held an awkward press conference at the Yankees' spring training headquarters in Tampa in which his teammates attended in "support", each of them bearing the look of a patient in a proctology exam gone horribly wrong.

(Have you already forgotten the 38-second pause that separated A-Rod saying "And to my teammates -- " and "Thank you"? I don't think Daniel-Day Lewis could have given a better performance.)

In retrospect, admitting anything was the worst thing Rodriguez could have done.

If you're Andy Pettitte, you come clean and the public forgives you. If you're David Ortiz, you deny, deny, deny, and an adoring media eventually sweeps it under the rug. If you're Alex Rodriguez, the admission serves to confirm everything that you were perceived to be from the start. A fraud, a phony, a fake.

Coming clean earned A-Rod no respect from his peers or the media. If anything, it was the ammunition—the atomic bomb, really— that his legion of detractors had always waited for. In a lot of ways—and in almost all the ways that matter to a vain man like Rodriguez—it destroyed him.

So many dinosaur columnists have used today to get on their soapbox to deride A-Rod. To downplay his achievement. To say that it means nothing. The irony is that many of these reporters are the same people who knew all about baseball's growing steroid problem in the 1990s and 2000s and kept quiet.

They're bigger frauds than the man they're chopping down.

Is Rodriguez innocent in all of this? Of course not. He cheated, and if you have a workable BS detector, you probably don't buy his story that the PED use was limited to three years in Texas.

But whatever your opinions of the man, hitting 600 homers is a huge achievement. Does the unfortunate history that accompanies his road to the milestone deserve a place in the conversation? Obviously. But to completely denigrate what he's done is simply piling one wrong on top of another.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

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