The Alex Rodriguez saga has become reality television. And I can’t stop watching.
The Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo have nothing on the front office of the most successful franchise in major league baseball history and a man who for many years had been the best player on the planet. It’s sad. It’s sordid. It’s tawdry. It’s pathetic.
It’s embarrassing to all involved. It’s bad for baseball. It’s bad for my cognitive well-being. But I can’t turn it off. Maybe you can’t, either.
Who among the principal actors has been completely forthcoming and truthful with the public? On that tally, I suspect we have a 17-way tie for last place.
In a deposition, Rodriguez likely would tell us that he was born July 27, 1975. The New York Yankees would list their home address as the intersection of 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx. Beyond that, I’m not sure what to believe.
I’m not a regular viewer of reality TV (I swear). But friends tell me it’s common to feel guilt after watching each installment (I do). I also understand that it’s OK not to take a rooting interest in any particular character, but rather waffle on a daily basis based on whose flaws seem less egregious (I do that, too).
In case you were busy with more substantive pursuits, please allow me to bring you up to speed on what transpired over the weekend in my favorite indulgence.
• Attorney Joseph Tacopina, A-Rod’s latest legal acquisition, alleged to The New York Times that the Yankees allowed Rodriguez to play in the 2012 postseason without telling him an MRI exam had revealed he had a torn hip labrum. “They rolled him out there like an invalid and made him look like he was finished as a ballplayer,” Tacopina told the newspaper. Tacopina’s implication was that the Yankees hoped A-Rod would become discouraged and retire, even if his poor performance hurt the team’s chances to win. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Sunday that Tacopina’s assertions are untrue.
• Tacopina also told the Times that Yankees team president Randy Levine said to Dr. Bryan Kelly, who performed Rodriguez’s offseason hip surgery, that Levine didn’t “ever want to see (Rodriguez) on the field again.” Levine denied saying that.
• Cashman told reporters that he’s not comfortable speaking with Rodriguez anymore — even while A-Rod was in the lineup, as the No. 5 batter, for the series finale against the rival Red Sox.
• ESPN reported Sunday that Rodriguez paid for an attorney to represent former Biogenesis proprietor Anthony Bosch, who is now the star witness against him.
• Oh, and then there was Sunday’s game: In the second inning, Boston starter Ryan Dempster hit Rodriguez with an obvious purpose pitch. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who apparently missed the pinstriped memo about A-Rod’s excommunication, was ejected after protesting the fact Dempster hadn’t been tossed. Rodriguez earned his own form of retribution by blasting a home run off Dempster in the sixth. A-Rod finished 3 for 4. The Yankees won 9-6.
There you have it. Better than TiVo.
Of course, the backdrop to this is Rodriguez’s appeal of an MLB-issued 211-game suspension for use and possession of performance-enhancing drugs and obstruction of the Biogenesis investigation. Given the number of billable hours at stake and the mercurial nature of Bosch, the appeal is not likely to end soon.
Rodriguez is trying to discredit the Yankees, while still expecting they will pay him more than $80 million after his season. The Yankees would benefit financially if Rodriguez were to lose his appeal or disappear from the game altogether . . . but in the meantime will gladly accept his .319 batting average and contributions to a beleaguered offense.
And you thought the Real Housewives were duplicitous and spiteful.
Obviously, people are lying. There is no other way to explain the competing versions of the truth put forward by parties with such abhorrence for one another. So, as with the best reality TV — again, based on what I hear from lowbrow acquaintances — the fun here involves showering praise upon those who lie the least . . . or at least those who lie the best. I’m disgusted by the whole ordeal. That’s why we call it “hate-watching.”
The only absolute truth is what we see on the field — provided, of course, that the urine samples of all participants get the A-OK from the folks in lab coats. And it was on that field — within Fenway Park’s vortex of Yankee contempt — that Rodriguez excelled before a national audience Sunday night.
I watched on television, just like you, and have no trouble admitting that I was captivated by what I saw. Whatever the sin — whether you like the player or not — the comeback of a fallen idol (even for one night) is compelling sports theater. You watch because you’re angry. You watch because you remember what he used to be. You watch for reasons you don’t entirely understand. But you watch. And Sunday, I saw Rodriguez take a swing straight out of 2007.
At this point you’re probably ready with a one-liner about PEDs and the legitimacy of what A-Rod did Sunday night. You may believe — as a number of his opponents do — that Rodriguez shouldn’t be allowed to play during his appeal. I disagree. MLB’s drug testing program provides for due process. Melky Cabrera was allowed to play during his appeal of a PED suspension last year — and in the process help the San Francisco Giants win the National League West. Where was the outcry then?
Furthermore, Rodriguez has been suspended without a positive drug test. MLB can and should be able to ban players for such non-analytical offenses — and has done so, with the other Biogenesis cases. But common sense says the burden of proof ought to be higher in those instances.
I certainly don’t believe Rodriguez is innocent. A-Rod’s camp hasn’t even bothered to issue strong denials that he used PEDs. But I’m willing to wait before concluding if 211 games is an accurate measure of his guilt, as opposed to, say, the 65-game sentence Ryan Braun received. In the meantime, I’ll keep my personal scorecard of how the characters in this drama ought to act and then mutter at the television when they do the opposite.
At least, that’s what my friends who watch reality TV tell me I’m supposed to do.