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Monday, April 13, 2015

Who determines which legacies are “ruined” and which are not? NY Times William C. Rhoden on Arod

4/12/15, "In the Yankees’ Reality Show, It’s Alex Rodriguez, Flaws and All," NY Times, William C. Rhoden

"Yankees fans had the first glimpse last week of life without Derek Jeter and life with Alex Rodriguez.

Hometown fans generally greeted Rodriguez warmly. He had spent a year away from the game after being suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball wanted a longer suspension, but Rodriguez fought and got the ban reduced. His return gave fans a reason to be hopeful.

While it would be a stretch to say Rodriguez has roared back, he has been more than credible. Even as the Yankees lost four of six games to open the season, Rodriguez offered a ray of hope. He had six hits, including a home run, and was batting .300. He even played first base, where he committed an error, but otherwise turned in an encouraging performance.

On Sunday, his bases-clearing double in the first inning set the tone for an offensive explosion that culminated in a 14-4 rout of the Boston Red Sox. "I’ve been working hard and I’ve been feeling better each day,” Rodriguez said after Sunday’s game. “But I have to remain patient and not expect too much." 

Rodriguez is not the Yankees’ problem this season, and he may even be the team’s salvation.

The larger issue is a pitching staff led by Masahiro Tanaka, who was drilled in the season opener but earned a victory Sunday, and C. C. Sabathia, who lost his first start as well.

Tanaka was better on Sunday, pitching five innings and allowing four runs in a 14-4 Yankees win.

The Yankees know what they have in Rodriguez: a baseball prodigy who, at age 39, is better than many players 10 years younger. The reality is that only Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra had more home runs as a Yankee than Rodriguez.

I’m fascinated by critics who write that Rodriguez has “ruined” his legacy. In whose eyes?

Clearly not among the thousands who have applauded Rodriguez for the last few days.

Who writes the history? Who determines which legacies are “ruined” and which are not? An overwhelmingly white, male baseball establishment that sits in judgment, that’s who.

If it were my vote, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would be in the Hall of Fame effective immediately. In the stats-driven, nostalgia-laced business of baseball, statistics speak for themselves.

We keep reading that Alex Rodriguez played us.

He didn’t play us. We — fans, the news media — played ourselves. Deluded ourselves as baseball continued to lie to itself.

Baseball tells us that the wicked witch of performance-enhancing drugs is dead. Right.

On Saturday we learned that the Mets’ Jenrry Mejia had tested positive for the steroid stanozolol and would be suspended for 80 games.

Earlier this month, we learned that three other players had tested positive for stanozolol. Clearly, they don’t have access to the latest science on performance-enhancing drugs.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi made a sensible and fair-minded point last week when asked about Rodriguez. “We live in a society that gives people second and third chances — fourth, fifth,” Girardi said. “Look, as humans we’re going to make mistakes. That’s the bottom line; we’ve all made mistakes.”

Except that Major League Baseball has never paid for its transgressions. Owners, team presidents, general managers, athletic trainers have never been held accountable for their roles in the so-called steroid era.

I had this conversation in the commissioner’s suite with Bud Selig during the World Series. My argument is that baseball will never have closure on this issue until former baseball commissioners, the current commissioner, team presidents and officials, as well as team owners past and present, testify under oath about who knew what and when.

The players have simply been fall guys for a sport that knew exactly what was transpiring and for fans who largely did not care. Let these Yankees begin winning and you will not have enough seats to accommodate the crowd.

Asked if he felt vindicated by his strong spring training and good start in the Yankees’ first six games, Rodriguez stuck to the script: It’s not about me; it’s about the team.

In terms of Rodriguez’s legacy, he was on the way to becoming one of the greatest shortstops to play the game until he reached the Yankees and, out of deference to Derek Jeter, switched to third base. Rodriguez became one of the best third basemen in the game, and I have little doubt that with time and reps, he could become an All-Star-caliber first baseman and could become an outstanding designated hitter.

Rodriguez knows how to play the game — on and off the field. So far this season, he is saying all the right things.

“I love our fans,” he said after the Yankees’ opening-day loss. “We have a long history here. I think about 2009 and some of the things we accomplished together. I think this is an opportunity to help the team win.”

And then added:

“The fans don’t owe me anything. I’ve said all along, since spring training, part of feeling like a rookie is that I have to earn their cheers and their respect.”

The reality is that Rodriguez is the only true star the Yankees have. This season, he will pass the great Willie Mays on the career home run list. Will the baseball establishment celebrate or will it treat Rodriguez’s feat as the tree that falls in the forest?

I love the idea of Mays as much as everyone else. But Mays played in an era when many misdeeds went undetected and unreported, when players faced little accountability for their actions. Athletes in that bygone era were given a wide berth because of their celebrity.

Now we look for celebrity deeds and misdeeds to fill an insatiable, eternal news cycle.

The Jeter era is over, and fans are right to lament its passing. Jeter was the consummate professional, giving crisp, no-frills interviews that revealed only what he wanted to reveal.

Jeter was the image of the clean-cut, unflawed Yankee.

Rodriguez is flawed. That, for me, is what makes him one of the most compelling figures in contemporary sports.

We learned, among other things, that he liked cigars and played a game of poker now and then. We know that he used steroids and lied about it.

He gave the people what they wanted, and baseball what it wanted. Now he is back.

“This is such an incredibly special year for me,” Rodriguez said on Sunday. “So different for me, I don't have anything to gauge it against. I’m really just trying to do the best I can every at-bat.” Next stop: Willie Mays." via John Sterling mention on Yankee radio




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