I must confess: I see a lot of myself in Alex Rodriguez.
Now, before you ship me off to the gulag, I should tell you that the A-Rod/me comparison is far from 100% accurate. I don't have half a billion dollars lying around. I am not a generational athletic talent. I don't have much of a taste for blonds - let alone large, muscular blonds. Still, every time Alex opens his mouth and renews the ire of an entire nation, I can't help but think to myself: "I'd be doing the same damn thing if I were him."
Alex Rodriguez has done some very bad things in his life; chief among his sins:
1. He cheated on his first wife.
2. He cheated at baseball.
3. He often choked in the postseason.
Sin #2 is being picked apart under the media microscope at the moment. We sports fans need new outrages to sustain the 24-hour indignation cycle, and the A-Rod and Ryan Braun scandals seemed to have replaced the Aaron Hernandez trial as the focus of our collective rage. He cheated! He besmirched the integrity of the game! Sure, the greatest starting pitcher in Yankees history also cheated at baseball - and will cheerfully regale you with colorful stories of said cheating - but...but...A-ROD! STEROIDS! A-ROID! A-FRAUD! HARRUMPH!
I must admit to being fascinated by this article, written last week by Bomani Jones, in which he claims that A-Rod would have been better off operating as a Barry Bonds-level jerk than as, well, himself. Because A-Rod is a conman, you see. He is a phony: and every instance of him working with young teammates or saving kids from oncoming trucks just reinforces how damn phony he is!
I must disagree with Mr. Jones, however. I don't consider Alex Rodriguez to be a phony. To me, he is all too real.
Anyone who has ever watched A-Rod celebrate with his teammates or try to speak extemporaneously knows that the guy lacks certain social graces. It's ironic that one of the smartest, most graceful players in Major League history can't seem to get out of his own way when engaged in simple conversation. Couple that with an insatiable need to be liked, and you have a recipe for social disaster.
America prefers a certain detached cool from their sports stars. We like it when they play hard-to-get. Sadly, A-Rod cannot play that game. He's not cool, he's not charming, but he wants your love and isn't afraid to show it. Having spent the last six years in China, I can't help but think that he would be adored in their culture, where there's no such thing as coming on too strong. In America, however, A-Rod's style is a restraining order waiting to happen.
Does that make him a phony? God, I hope not - because I see many of those same flaws in my own personality. In most social situations I am one of the most painfully awkward people you have ever seen. I've been slapped for telling jokes that landed nowhere near their intended marks. I have inadvertently taken simple misunderstandings and blown them up into lingering blood feuds. In my younger days, I discovered that my group of friends at the time had a popular credo they liked to roll out whenever I was out of the room: Joe in small doses. As I matured, I found a group of true confidants - my friends, family, and wife - who often remind me to think twice before speaking my mind in public. Do I share A-Rod's need for constant affirmation? I write for a blog, for God's sake - what do you think?
Unlike most sports fans, I completely identified with A-Rod's last PED confession, in the spring of 2009. That press conference was the quintessential example of Alex Rodriguez making all the right moves in the PR playbook, only to be undone by his very nature. Once every few days some sanctimonious sports writer will pen another "just say you're sorry" article. Apparently the fans simply want an act of contrition. Well, A-Rod wasn't the only star player who had a positive 2003 steroid test leaked to the public, but unlike some others, he did actually apologize. I'm sure now he wishes he hadn't - his apology was once again criticized for being "too phony."
Well let me tell you: if I had taken a drug test under the condition of anonymity, and my results were leaked to the world, my forced apology would have looked eerily similar. While I've never done PEDs, I have been forced to make a phony apology before, and I'll be the first to admit my performance wasn't any better than A-Rod's. I once paid for a medium fountain drink at a deli and then filled a large cup, only to be caught by the cashier. My friend couldn't help but laugh at my pathetic, fumbling attempts to explain away my crime. "You're a terrible actor," the cashier said.
Like me, Alex Rodriguez is no actor. I wish he hadn't taken performance-enhancing drugs. I'd like to believe that I would not have done the same thing in his place. But I have no way of knowing what I would be doing now if I had been hailed as a sports god since middle school.
If Major League Baseball has evidence to prove he has been doping, then they should punish him according to the standards set out by the collective bargaining agreement. Cheating is as old as the game itself, and we have rules in place to handle it. There's no reason for baseball to turn this into the Nuremberg Trials. A-Rod is not a monster; in fact, I believe his fatal flaw is that he is all too human.