There's something about Alex Rodriguez that defies reality. No other player has caused so much uproar in all of sports in the last twenty years. No other player has fallen so far after flying so high. There has been no bigger point of contention in baseball than the matter of performance enhancing drugs, and Rodriguez has been one of the faces of that ugly debate. After seemingly flaming out of baseball in spectacular fashion in 2013, and nearly slipping from the public eye last year, Rodriguez has done what many thought would be impossible. Not only has he successfully returned to Major League Baseball, he's thriving. The man who was the ultimate heel to the game and a healthy chunk of Yankees fans is the recipient of the loudest cheers of any player in the lineup.
I was in the park when Rodriguez got his 2998th and 2999th hits last night. It was magical. And I was part of the thousands upon thousands of fans hating Sam Dyson's guts when he threw four pitches very far inside to brush Alex off the plate in his final plate appearance of the night. There were shades of Ryan Dempster there.
I wasn't mad that I didn't get to see history. I was mad that Dyson was acting like a coward and baseball's own hall monitor of Playing The Game The Right Way (TM). Cheating is cheating, yes. A-Rod absolutely cheated. As did Hank Aaron when he took greenies, and as did Babe Ruth when he corked his bat.
Cheating happens in sports. I don't condone it. Alex Rodriguez should not have taken steroids. However, steroids did not bless him with God-given physical gifts that helped him reach the Major Leagues in 1994 at age 18. They didn't give him a discerning eye at the plate and an obsessive love of the art of hitting. They didn't make him a fantastic shortstop. They didn't give him perfect hitting mechanics. Did they swell his muscles and give him a competitive edge? Of course.
The history of baseball is littered with cheaters, and worse. Is there truly justification for putting Ty Cobb, a violent and bigoted racist who intentionally spiked players, in the Hall and not Alex Rodriguez? I personally don't see that there is. Is there justification for putting in Gaylord Perry, who is largely known for his doctored pitches, and not Alex Rodriguez?
I cheered for Alex Rodriguez on Opening Day because he's a fabulous ballplayer and he did his time. The sentence handed down by the league was far beyond the rules and completely arbitrary. It was designed to make an example of Rodriguez. That's bull, plain and simple. And if this fantastic long-form article from ESPN is anywhere near true (and I cannot suggest more that you give it a read), Rodriguez is a changed man. I root for him. I want him to demolish the whole league and hit a towering home run out of the ballpark at the All-Star Game. I want the Yankees to win the World Series and have him named MVP.
Because above all, baseball is a game. It's entertainment. It's not our canvas onto which we should fling our emotional paint, because these players aren't characters in a soap opera. They're real human beings with insecurities and issues and emotions. Alex Rodriguez didn't take steroids while twirling his mustache and laughing maniacally about how he'd just gotten one over on all of us. He didn't burn down an orphanage on his way to the ballpark and shove a knife into the pitcher's back after he launched a PED-fueled home run into the night. He cheated at at game. Is he a good example to young kids? Sure he is, but you don't see this level of vitriol directed at David Ortiz, who himself is far from being a saint. If David Ortiz hit a landmark home run and it was caught by semi-professional baseball catcher and arrogant fool Zack Hample, you wouldn't see this kind of tweet.
@Yankeefan98 I'll give him the finger and a dummy ball. That man deserves favors from no one, least of all a fan.— Zack Hample (@zack_hample) June 19, 2015
What Alex Rodriguez, who is nearly 40 years old, has done after a year and a half away from the game and on two bad hips is nothing short of remarkable. That's the story here. That's what should be celebrated. It's the ultimate comeback story. It's the physical embodiment of the strength of pure unadulterated willpower and a smooth swing. Congratulations, Alex Rodriguez. You are the hero that baseball deserves in a world that constantly derides players for having fun. You're a square peg in a tiny round hole. Keep mashing, keep succeeding. Prove them all wrong.
Baseball is fun because of moments like this. Baseball is about storybook moments of triumph and overcoming the odds. It's about Kirk Gibson hobbling off the bench and taking Dennis Eckersley deep to win a playoff game. It's about Don Larsen throwing a perfect game in the World Series. It's about Salvador Perez shooting a line drive under Josh Donaldson's glove to end the craziest game of the year and starting the Royals on their mad dash through the playoffs. It's about Alex Rodriguez resurrecting himself from baseball purgatory and getting his 3000th hit on a first pitch oppo shot off a former Cy Young winner.
John Sterling said something remarkably poignant tonight. "There's a million terrible things in this world," he said, "and one of them happened two nights ago in South Carolina. In the grand scheme of things, a baseball player taking PEDs really doesn't mean a whole lot." I couldn't agree more. Baseball is supposed to be fun. It seems that the enjoyment of sports has devolved into screaming radio hosts and hot takes and indignation for indignation's sake. Why? Why can't we just have fun? Why can't we just sit back and watch the fireworks? Alex Rodriguez has done something truly remarkable, and it's because of our self-righteous indignation that he'll likely never be enshrined in Cooperstown with his fellow cheaters. That's a crying shame. However, he'll always have this. And at the end of the day, that's what truly matters.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.