Self-awareness has never been Alex Rodriguez’s strength. He has always seemed unaware of his own transparency, like the time he knocked the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove and tried to play it off like he was just running to first base … or the time he appeared to yell "I got it" during a popup to distract the Blue Jays third baseman, then half denied it … or the time it came out that he has paintings of himself as a centaur in his home.
He seems to have no clue how this stuff looks to others. So it’s difficult to know what A-Rod meant when he kept talking about his "legacy" on Mike Franscesca’s radio show in New York on Wednesday.
"This is about his legacy," Rodriguez said of MLB commissioner Bud Selig. "And it is about my legacy, and he’s trying to destroy me. He’s retiring in 2014 and to put me in his big mantel on the way out, that’s a hell of a trophy."
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You figure when A-Rod talks about legacy he’s looking at his Hall of Fame resume: Twenty seasons, 654 home runs, 2,939 hits, .299 batting average, three MVP awards, 14 All-Star Games and one World Series ring. Those figures make for a mighty impressive legacy.
He might be including his name and fame as part of that, too. A $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers turned him into Pay-Rod. He dated Madonna. He was always in the tabloids. There is a slickness to him the tabloids love — all groomed and sparkly. A man who spends all this time looking in the mirror without ever seeing what he looks like.
People don’t trust Alex Rodriguez. That’s obvious. It is unclear, though, whether A-Rod understands his legacy includes that. He admitted to using steroids once, after a lot of spirited denial, and finds himself fighting that same battle once again, challenging a 211-game suspension for violating MLB’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
If Rodriguez is defining his legacy by his numbers, then it’s worthwhile fight. Thirty-seven-year-old ballplayers can’t afford to miss 211 games when chasing statistical milestones. A-Rod is 61 hits shy of 3,000, and 46 homers shy of 700. But 211 games from now? Who knows?
The trouble is the numbers are already tainted by what happened earlier in his career. The only aspect of Rodriguez’s legacy that won’t be challenged is that he was a great baseball player, juiced or clean.
Everything else, though? That ball has left the yard, man. Even the stats mean less than they used to. Alex Rodriguez is famous but unpopular, listened to but not trusted, observed but not admired. This is not all his fault. He probably is a little misunderstood, as we all are.
But that’s what legacies are – perceptions, reductions, simplifications – and A-Rod’s legacy as anything other than a great baseball player is not a legacy you want to have.