Baseball, Sports

Alex Rodriguez’s exit and flawed idealism

Of all superstar retirements, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez’s exit was one of the strangest and most understated; the career of the imperfect baseball icon came to an end in the middle of a mediocre New York Yankee season.

Rodriguez, the most intriguing and unique—if not the most talented—Yankee, never received the uncontested reverence of other Yankee legends. His career accomplishments are indisputable: Stunning defence at shortstop, the second most RBIs in league history, being the fastest to hit 500 and 600 home runs, and, in 2003, he signed the largest sports contract (at that time) by a factor of two. 

Of course, there were the sordid low-lights, which featured confessing to his use of steroids, as well as litigating the Yankees, the MLB, and the Player’s Union in 2013. All of this after lacklustre playoff performances, trying to get a fan’s number in a playoff game, and the strange portrait of himself as a centaur that purportedly hangs above his bed. Rodriguez is perhaps one of the only baseball players to become a true demi-god—living a theatrical life, while still exhibiting the flaws of a man.

The end of his career as a Yankee marks the bittersweet end of a melodramatic career filled with absurd peaks and depraved valleys. Baseball statisticians have demonstrated that Rodriguez was worth every penny of the half a billion dollars he earned from the Texas Rangers and the Yankees combined. He won three MVPs—and probably would have won three more—were it not for suspect voting procedures. He was a perennial all-star and he won a world series in 2009 for the Yankees. Nevertheless, many journalists decry his accomplishments as tainted by his steroid use. 

Though his drug use can be attributed to his desire to live up to astronomical expectations and entertain the fans, the doping came at a time when steroids were not penalized and were instead covertly promoted as baseball’s saviour. Baseball has always been imperfect, but it’s always been for enjoying, not for moralizing. Riddled among its heroes are gamblers, drug addicts, racists, and wife-beaters, among other reprobates. Fans will never know or see A-Rod the person, just as they choose to ignore Ty Cobb’s violence or David Ortiz’s doping. To fixate on off-field events over a player’s on-field production and their tantalizing skills is to sterilize baseball.

The prodigious power, superhuman arm, and transcendent baseball IQ coalesced into an athlete molded from Olympian thunder. If anything, his wish to be remembered as “someone who tripped and fell a lot, but someone that kept getting up” attests to his place in a game full of imperfectly perfect icons. Rodriguez’s mistakes—his contrition and humility, perhaps feigned—reveals a human side of baseball. Baseball has never been comprised of perfectly moral role models, but rather flawed humans. 

As baseball is very much a pillar of mass media, popular culture interpretation and politics inevitably leads to class divisions and discrimination. That said, the days of the old boys’ club version of baseball—where bat flips are discouraged and etiquette fetishized—seem to be  numbered. Baseball now marches into a period where old-fashioned, unspoken rules of propriety are fading as the game evolves into a spectacle and celebration of athletic performance. Rodriguez’s legacy as a phenom-turned-Satan-turned-sage-turned-washed-up-bench-DH chronicled a pivotal switch in baseball history from a decorous and refined game to a game that tries to be more fun and human.

During Rodriguez’s retirement ceremony, peals of thunder and torrential rain fittingly signalled  the end. The game began with the lambent, orange streaks of dusk and then a blistering line drive double to right field for his first at bat. Rodriguez finished his Yankees tenure just as he started it: With a one-for-four with a RBI double. A month later, the Yankees’ new slugger, Gary Sanchez, won AL Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month honours in a historic month reminiscent of prime A-Rod production. And so, baseball goes on.

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