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Alex Rodriguez and baseball’s double standard

Alex Rodriguez’s legacy will always be tarnished by his performance enhancing drug use, while others who have committed the same offense have been forgiven. It’s a confusing outcome, one that certainly isn’t fair for one of baseball’s biggest stars.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, a former superstar will begin his slow walk from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box. A generational talent, he’ll take a practice swing or two on the way there, like he’s been doing this his whole life (he has). A three-time most valuable player, he might exchange some amiable greetings with the catcher and umpire before settling into the box in an all-too-familiar fashion. The swing, which has guided him to the fourth most home runs (696), third most runs batted in (2,084), and 12th highest WAR (117.9) of all-time, will begin as the pitcher releases the ball. It’s a swing owned by one of the greatest baseball players ever.

There will be cheers, but there will also be boos. There have always been boos, jeers, taunts, and uniquely crude remarks made for Alex Rodriguez. In many eyes, Rodriguez has entrenched himself as a villain. Perhaps an incredibly talented villain, but a villain nonetheless.

Undoubtedly, there have been moments that justify Rodriguez’s place as an anti-hero in baseball history. From the infamous slap, to the even more infamous popcorn incident, to the vastly more infamous Biogenesis scandal, Rodriguez has, as he put it, “tripped and fell a lot.” He was never quite sure how to act in the spotlight, and photos of A-Rod kissing his reflection certainly didn’t help. This uncomfortable persona he developed, however inadvertently, grew antagonizing with many fans, quickly making him unlikeable.

An odd thing about baseball is that it sometimes holds grudges, while other times it can forget. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, his missteps were never forgiven. The media, always harsh, continuously came down heavy on the Yankees’ third baseman, labeling him as ‘A-Fraud.’ So, it only seemed natural that he was found to have (legally) used performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, and (illegally) in 2013 amidst the Biogenesis scandal. These two incidents tagged Rodriguez with the ‘cheater’ label, and it hasn’t in the slightest worn off since the year-long suspension he served in 2014.

This legacy that will follow Rodriguez is a result of a disappointing double-standard in baseball. Rodriguez won’t be receiving a retirement tour like the sometimes-hot-headed David Ortiz, who also tested positive for PEDs in 2003. He’s not universally loved around the league like the man with a second family, Bartolo Colon, who was also roped into the Biogenesis scandal. Unlike Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte is as respected as any former Yankee, even though he admitted to steroid use and lied on multiple occasions about it beforehand.

Famous sluggers Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron will certainly be remembered as ‘real’ home run hitters, unlike A-Rod, despite the fact that all three admitted to using amphetamines during their storied careers. Even young players, like Marcus Stroman, who was suspended in 2012 for stimulant use, are given a pass by baseball despite fairly recent violations.

People will always call A-Rod a cheater, and that’s okay. He did cheat, and it shouldn’t go unpunished. However, myriad others also cheated, many of them never caught in the act; even the majority who test positive won’t have to bear the scarlet letter Rodriguez does. It’s a hypocritical culture that baseball has become a part of, and most fans can’t recognize this.

Rodriguez was cherry-picked to endure the brunt of baseball’s animosity toward steroid users, and the reasons for this aren’t really fair. He’s an otherworldly talent, constantly in the spotlight, and misrepresented as unlikeable, all of which ‘earn’ him the hate of many.

Probably the most frustrating part of this for Rodriguez himself and his supporters is the fact that people often disparage his character. While he may not have been the best at handling himself publicly, Rodriguez is far from a bad person. Very few negative accounts of Rodriguez have come from the clubhouse, where he is well-respected and has shown a penchant for mentoring younger players. Didi Gregorius and Manny Machado have given Rodriguez credit for improving their defense, and CC Sabathia made sure to note that it was Rodriguez who made him feel welcome in the clubhouse when he first joined the Yankees. In addition, both Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino mentioned Rodriguez has lent help to both of them.

If Rodriguez was loved around baseball the way David Ortiz is, it’s unlikely he’d have to deal with the ‘cheater’ reputation as frequently as he does. While Rodriguez can partially be blamed for a poor public image, on the whole it appears to be an inaccurate picture of who he truly is. Rodriguez was chosen to be the poster boy of cheating in the early 2000s. Just as unfairly, he was picked because of an inaccurate reputation.

The grudge that baseball has held against Rodriguez continued through last season, despite Rodriguez coming back remorseful, humble, and having his best season in five years. This season, despite often being benched for poor performance on a disappointing team, there’s been very little drama to speak of. Rodriguez tried to rebuild his image, but it hasn’t stuck for most of baseball.

Because of this, Rodriguez’s retirement was met with remarks about how he was a cheater, a fraud, and a bad person. The previously-well-oiled-machine that was now teeming with rust wasn’t seen as he should have been—as human—but instead as a slipping con artist who deserved this fate.

Rodriguez, try as he might, has never been able to fix his public image. While the sins of steroid users like Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, and countless others were forgiven and forgotten, Rodriguez has continuously been derided for his part. He never beat women, committed crimes, or caused serious waves in the clubhouse, and completed a remarkable transformation on a character level at the tail end of his career.

Rodriguez was one of the many to be caught using performance-enhancing drugs, and one of the few who were permanently tagged with the cheater label. We can only hope that the undeserved legacy as a villain will slowly fade in the face of his incredible career on the field, but for now he remains an omnipresent reminder of baseball’s double standard.