Perhaps the worst thing that could happen to the New York Yankees right now is that they actually make this year’s playoffs. It’s still a long-shot, with the Yanks some five games back and trailing three teams. But given their torrid pace of late, anything is possible. That may be particularly true if Alex Rodriguez plays like the Alex Rodriguez of old, long before he sat out this entire season recovering from hip surgery. He’s looked good so far, way better than the A-Rod that limped his way through last year’s playoff exit, barely able to hit the ball much less run the bases. This is all assuming A-Rod is allowed to play the rest of the season, which feels like a safe bet given his appeal from a 211 game suspension for his use of performance enhancing drugs.
Counter the normal Yankees ethos, which is win at all exorbitant costs, they might rather end this season sooner as opposed to later. That would at least end, for now, the soap opera also known as A-Rod against the world. There are several new high notes that have come even since A-Rod’s suspension by the league and subsequent appeal. First off, the Yankees and A-Rod have levied serious allegations against one another, including Rodriguez’s lawyer Joe Tacopino accusing the Yanks of lying to A-Rod about the extent of his injury so he’d play hurt. To that, Yankees President Randy Levine has told A-Rod to put up or shut up. All this while your highest paid player may propel you into the post season.
Then, Tacopino on the Today Show said that A-Rod would love to discuss his testing history for PED’s but it would violate the leagues confidentiality agreement. On cue, Matt Lauer produced a letter from Major League Baseball agreeing to waive that clause, which Tocopino awkwardly called a trap. You almost expected Patrick Duffy to jump out of the shower and say the whole season was just a dream.
But now, the league, the Yankees, the players union, and even the fans have some decisions to make. The league reportedly wanted a lifetime ban, and I’m sure the Yankees would agree, since it would get them out the back end of the most bloated contract in baseball history. The fans seemed to want the same, or at least something close. A-Rod has some three strikes against him, and I’m being generous. He cheated, he lied about cheating, and he’s chronically overpaid. And he’s self-centered and insecure. Even the player’s union has stepped aside, supporting A-Rod kind of like Chris Christie supported Mitt Romney. In other words, not much. Some players took justice into their own hands, with Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster pitching above, behind, and finally at A-Rod this week. So outside of pinstripe diehards, no one’s really on A-Rod’s team, including his actual team.
But before you throw the book at A-Rod, know this. It’s not crime to be a jerk. It’s not even against the rules. If it were, Roger Clemens would actually be in jail. A-Rod should be suspended, and for a long time, I suppose. But to make his penance over three times that of Ryan Braun feels personal. You can’t tack on an extra 50 games because he told kids to stay off drugs while he shot himself up with testosterone. That punishment will have to come from a higher authority, if you’re of the spiritual persuasion.
Second, baseball can’t simply make A-Rod part of its 12-step rehab. For the better part of 15 years, the sport has been riddled by PED use, making every title of this generation more synthetic than Astroturf. That can’t be undone with one swift kick. A-Rod’s suspension should fit the rule book, not the anger, even if that means he gets to return to the game in a year. That he wasn’t suspended 10 years ago is baseball’s mistake, not his. Just like it’s the Yankees mistake that they signed a contract that made the movie Waterworld seem like a smart investment. Like it or not, A-Rod is simply one for the loss column. Baseball and the Yankees would do themselves some good to take the loss graciously, which sounds a lot more like a 100 game suspension than one over double that size.
Of course, the Yankees wouldn’t mind a few losses right now, at least enough to take them out of the playoff hunt. If nothing else, it could at least pull the curtains on this season of the A-Rod saga.
Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.
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