This is not a defense of Alex Rodriguez. There is none – even if I wanted to go against public sentiment and try – not for a lying, cheating, narcissist of this magnitude.
This is more an explanation of how this once talented young phenom who came to Texas with a $252 million contract and a promise to change the face of baseball slowly became everything wrong with the sport he was supposed to revolutionize.
A-Rod has become the face of baseball, all right, with that face being greedy and selfish, going for the biggest payday instead of the right fit, cutting corners for success and money, and eventually fading into an ugly unrecognizable mess.
And all of this was in motion for Alex long before he arrived in pinstripes.
His downfall actually began on the day he “made it,” though, hardly anybody recognized this as he signed his big deal with the Texas Rangers. There was criticism about the craziness of the money (more than any player before him) and of Texas for bidding against itself (paying almost $100 million more than anybody else was offering). The sentiment about Alex, though, was this contract made him the greatest baseball player of his time.
All it made him was a sitting target.
And only now with two PED scandals, too many back-page scandals to count, pervasive losing in Texas, a forced trade, mounting injuries and declining numbers under his belt do we see just what folly it is to equate making money with making it.
We all have bought into this elaborate myth about what it is to “make it.” We have confused making money with making it when, really, one has very little to do with the other. Really smart journalists, progressive thinkers, friends of mine have bought into this hype, too, a trend I noticed a couple of weeks ago when Anna Benson hit the news.
Benson is a lot of exes – ex-exotic dancer, ex-model and most notably ex-wife of former pitcher Kris Benson. He had turned her into a household name and helped return her to that status by calling police after she had broken into his home wearing a bulletproof vest and wielding a samurai sword, despondent because she had lost custody of her husband, her kids, her payday. And this whole thing has gotten so twisted, how we view success in America, that we actually believe Benson made it.
And let’s be real: Alex is not that much different than Anna.
He, too, allowed himself to be used in exchange for money. He never wanted to sign with Texas. My guess is he’d have preferred to stay in Seattle or go to New York or Boston for less money because even less money is a crazy insane amount. Like Benson, he deluded himself into thinking he was using the system, was capable of handling the system and the ride would be worth it.
The lie is that the money would be worth it, that it is synonymous with making it. The lie is achingly pervasive in our culture, which constantly reinforces the message for women that sex is power and our bodies are our currency while telling men how much money they make is the only thing that matters.
Of course, Alex took the money. He didn’t realize that deal was about then Rangers owner Tom Hicks’ ego, about the players association, about setting a new bar, about his agent, about a lot of things – none of which had anything to do with what was best for Alex.
Texas ruined Alex in a way everybody initially thought he had ruined the Rangers when he left. Because while Alex left a tattered mess that took now Ranger general manager Jon Daniels a considerable amount of time and political capital to clear up, what happened to Alex’s reputation is not fixable.
He is the sum of his choices, starting with the decision to take the $252 million. He was forever after chasing respect, falling further down the rabbit hole with PEDs and the purse slap until he reached this place where he is almost unrecognizable. This last, public spat with Yankees GM Brian Cashman is just another in a long, long line of embarrassing missteps that detracted from his talent.
This is his legacy in the game. He is the face of the narcissistic, the greedy and the dumb. And somehow we want to pretend this is making it.