As he rounded the bases against the Baltimore Orioles seconds after belting his 661st homerun, a no doubter to the deepest part of Yankee Stadium, Alex Rodriguez must have been wondering what might have been.
Just four years earlier, he had seen his teammate Derek Jeter reach the 3,000th hit plateau and receive royal treatment from the New York Yankees and their fans. After seeing the outpouring of love and gratitude from the Yankee fans towards Jeter, A-Rod must have had visions about what 661 would look like. A ceremony to honor one of the greatest accomplishments in baseball history, a packed stadium of 50,000 fans chanting his name, and an outpouring of love that Alex would surely never forget. However, as I watched him round the bases in front of a half-empty Yankee stadium Thursday night, I realized A-Rod will forever be a tainted legend; and that is a very sad truth.
With or without performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), Alex Rodriguez is one of the most gifted baseball players in the modern era. People forget the Seattle Mariners selected Alex out of high school as the first overall pick in the 1993 MLB Draft. He debuted with the Mariners the following season, and in 1996, just two years after he broke into the show, Alex was runner-up to Juan Gonzalez in the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting. Possessing a combination of speed and power seldom seen in baseball, Alex became the cornerstone of the Mariners franchise. In five full seasons with Seattle, he hit 184 homers, drove in 574 runs, and batted .314. It was evident that A-Rod had special talent and was on his way to a tremendous MLB career.
While there is no way to clearly speculate that Rodriguez was not on PEDs in Seattle, he has never been accused of doing so from 1996-2000 (his five years with the Mariners). If Alex had stayed on the pace he was on in Seattle, again assuming he was not on PEDs, he would have hit well over 500 home runs and 1500 RBIs. These statistics would have easily put him in the Hall of Fame. Despite having a clean Hall of Fame career at his fingertips, Rodriguez decided to make the biggest mistake any athlete can make: by cheating. He not only cheated but also lied multiple times about his involvement in baseball’s most tainted era.
The question I have is why? Why would a player with as much god given talent as A-Rod feel the need to cheat? In A-Rod’s 2009 interview with Peter Gammons he cited the “culture” of Major Baseball as to why he was not keenly aware of what he was putting into his body. While A-Rod most likely knew exactly what he was doing, it is true that in the late 1990s and early 2000s many high-profiled baseball players were using PEDs. It is quite possible that Alex may have seen Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire captivate the country with their home run race in 1998, while also witnessing Barry Bonds belt a record 73 home runs in 2001 and felt the pressure to live up to their hype. He may have felt the weight of the contract he signed with Texas, the largest contract in baseball history, on his shoulders. He may have wanted to not just be one of the greats, but the greatest. However, all of these possibilities do not justify Alex’s decision to cheat not only himself but also the fans of Major League Baseball.
The 2015 version of Alex Rodriguez has been much different than fans are accustomed to seeing. The villain who lied multiple times about his PED usage is now saying all the right things in an attempt to save any inch of dignity he has left. A softer A-Rod even got emotional during a postgame interview in Boston, the site of his Major League debut, after tying Mays with his 660th career home run. Despite a worthy attempt, the emotional, softer Rodriguez has little chance of repairing his image to most. Every homer will be considered illegitimate and every team oriented quote will be considered phony. This is the bed Alex has created for himself.
This article is in no way condoning A-Rod’s PED usage or defending his actions. I am neither an A-Rod supporter nor hater. I am simply stating that this is not the way Alex Rodriguez’s story was supposed to end. A career once destined to end in Cooperstown will now most likely end in scandal. He will forever be associated with names like Bonds, Palmeiro, and McGuire; the perpetrators of baseball’s darkest hour. Assuming he stays healthy, Alex still has a chance to pass legends like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on the all-time homeruns and RBI’s lists. As he reaches each milestone in front of a half empty Yankee stadium or the hate filled taunts of opposing parks, we will be constantly reminded that Alex Rodriguez is a tainted legend; and that is a very sad truth.