Has A-Rod successfully returned?
I wonder if Alex Rodriguez was watching the Tiger Woods staged reading Friday Morning. It wasn’t too long ago (last year at this time in fact) that A-Rod was the hottest story. He was under the microscope after admitting to taking steroids years ago after signing his mammoth contract from the Texas Rangers. There he was, the best in his sport, endorsement deals and a high profile personal life and he had somehow become a tragic figure.
Oh, what a difference a year makes. This year A-Rod comes into spring training still one of the games best and most dangerous at the dish. Yet this year he brings something else with him: a World Series Ring.
But let’s go back to last year. He had been caught. He had learned from the mistakes of those that faced questions before him. He told the truth. Okay, not really told the truth as there was hole after hole in his story. But he owned up to the root of the story. He had made a mistake and disgraced himself and the game that paid him. He was honest and sincere in his apology. Or at least he made us believe him.
After a lengthy stint on the DL, Rodriguez came back to the Yankees and not only provided them with the protection they needed in their lineup, but he came back with a different attitude. Gone were the scripted answers that made Alex hard to hate but not easy to like. This Alex was different. He wasn’t playing to be wers and the boring clic perfect. He wasn’t playing to appease the media and meet the expectations of his image. He was human now. He was flawed. That was his image.
And it showed for him in the time it mattered most: the postseason. No one had been beat up more than Alex Rodriguez for his shortcomings in the postseason. People forget how Roger Clemens often didn’t show up in big games and would always seem to hide behind a nagging injury. We forget that Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds were nothing more than average when it was crunch time. Still we gave Rodriguez a beating because no player earned the money he did and with that money came expectations. But A-Rod answered the call by giving us one of the most productive post-seasons in recent memory and doing it with the sports most highly scrutinized team. It seemed as if A-Rod was knew he couldn’t come under more fire than he did seven months earlier.
It’s possible, that now, after the scandal has come and gone and his name will be at the center of every Cooperstown argument for years to come, that Alex Rodriguez is poised to be better than he was before? And it’s possible we have something to do with that. We have finally embraced him. We have forgiven him. We are ready to finally enjoy Alex Rodriguez.
It’s the interesting thing about this country and the people it idolizes, we love to watch people fall just to watch them get back up again. We love redemption as much as we love greatness, if not more so. I think it’s because we can see ourselves in them. We can put the money and the fame aside and see what makes us both human.
What does it mean for A-Rod this season? Good things I presume. He’s still young and in great physical condition. His bat speed looked great in the post-season last year where he hit an astonishing .365. He is part of a fierce lineup with Mark Teixeira hitting beside him and Granderson leading off a potent lineup. And we all see what a clear head can do for a player. I’m not sure that A-Rod wins an MVP this year but I’d put him as a favorite.
But more to the point, A-Rod doesn’t seem to care about MVP’s or public adulation. He seems to care about playing baseball and winning games, the mark of a true champion. And A-Rod has the ring to prove it.