Something unexpected is happening. For the first time - probably since the 2009 postseason - Alex Rodriguez's reputation is trending upward. Make no mistake, the consensus among baseball fans when it comes to A-Rod ranges from mildly disliking him to irrationally wishing personal ill upon him. However, over the past month or so there appears to have been a slight shift in the tone in which media outlets and fans opine about the guy that indicates they're willing to, at the very least, let him redeem himself a bit through his contributions to his team.
For years now, A-Rod has remained cemented in the elite ranks of sports' most reviled figures. Over the course of the past two years he's been embroiled in a scandal that attached his name to steroid use once again, sued Major League Baseball, was involved in an ugly public back-and-forth with the Yankees front office over his choice to seek opinions of doctors not associated with the team, and served an unprecedented 162-game suspension that would put his career on hold until he could return as a 40-year-old to begin his final three years in which he'll be paid somewhere between $64 and $94 million to be a designated hitter. So where is this sudden willingness to let bygones be bygones - at least to an extent - and let his performance between the lines from here on out dictate whether or not he's cheered or booed? Well, there are a few reasons.
First and foremost: the 2015 Yankees need Alex Rodriguez. Not even to be his old, MVP-type self. One would have to think most Yankee fans would sign up for a season in which he managed to scrap together a season in which he hit .260 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI over the course of 120 games. This influx of good will coming A-Rod's way will stop dead in its tracks if he's unable to be a productive part of the lineup, and will make the prospect of 2016 and 2017 all the more worrisome.
The second factor working in Rodriguez's favor is simply the fatigue of hating on A-Rod. From his exorbitant contract to his PED usage to his playoff woes and dozens of catalysts for conversation in between, he's been dominating headlines and back pages for well over a decade now, and people are tired of it. This spring has been long-looming for Yankee fans as one that seemed like it would be a media circus centered around A-Rod. All things considered, however, most of the coverage out of Tampa has been about his play rather than digging to find the next soundbite or pontificating on why he's the devil and the anti-Jeter.
Thirdly, for the first time (okay, maybe the second time), A-Rod is getting a rare chance to play the role of victim thanks to the Yankees. They appear to have every intention of hanging on to the up-to-$30 million in bonuses he'll earn for reaching home run milestones. Can they be blamed for not wanting to give that money up? No. Are they wrong for thinking the milestones are worth less than when the contract was signed? No. But therein lies the inherent risk of a baseball contract. Carlos Beltran was signed for money relative to his expected production. Just because the money they spent wasn't worth what they thought it would be when the contract was signed doesn't mean the Yanks get to renege on what they would like to pay him, unless there happens to be a clause in his contract stating it.
Then came word that the Yankees expressed dissatisfaction with A-Rod for arriving at camp two days early without informing them so they could notify the media. One would think the reason A-Rod came early and kept a low profile would be to avoid the frenzy and get to work, but that seemed to go over the collective head of the organization. And then, most recently, was the Yankees' Twitter account refusing to acknowledge A-Rod's home run on Wednesday. This wasn't nearly as big of a deal as the reaction it garnered. But the exclusion more than likely wasn't a mistake, and it just helps add to the notion that it's going to be the deeply flawed A-Rod vs the petty Yankees going forward.
The past few weeks have been surprising with the decrease in vitriol aimed at Rodriguez in message boards, comment sections, and call-in talk shows. Also surprising has been the step back taken by the media, which makes sense because they are typically catering to those same fans that occupy those sports-talk forums. And it's been fairly satisfying to see the largely positive ovations he's received from those in attendance at George M. Steinbrenner Field. The general feeling among fans appears to be that they've been repeatedly disappointed by the guy's actions in the past, they think the team would be better off without him, and they wish nothing but the best for him on the field as he tries to help the Yankees win.