Somewhere in this world, A-Rod is still A-Rod. Somewhere, he’s still a name that’s bigger than reality, an icon that represents something that means something, whether it’s true or not.
That’s why Alex Rodriguez can’t come out Monday, when he was suspended for more performance-enhancing drug use, and admit that he’s done it. That’s why he can’t stand up Monday and come clean to every accusation (most of them oh-so-true) that’s been leveled against him. That’s why he can’t use Monday as his final chance to be a new man, a real man, the man that everyone has told him he could be even while enjoying his antics. He’s going to appeal the suspension instead and keep playing as long as they let him.
In corners of this world, A-Rod is still just an incredible baseball player. He’s still a slugger, a third baseman, an MVP. His name is a catchphrase for what it means to be great at the game.
To casual fans, from children too young to know to the 20-something who only hears of baseball but rarely watches it, he’s still A-Rod. They’ve heard him linked to steroids, and they may have heard jokes about what a joke he is, but his reputation is still big enough that he’s a baseball player first and a cheat and laughingstock second.
That changes if he comes clean. While the baseball community, real fans and sportswriters near and far all know the truth and are just waiting for Rodriguez to one day, humbly, recount his missteps, it’s not that simple. There are still some 86 million dollars floating around that would get tied up in legal issues if Rodriguez were to admit certain things. There are still chances that, steroid-destroyed hip and all, Rodriguez could still return to the game and do something, even if it’s not peck away at 800 homers.
But, most of all, there are still people who don’t know how far A-Rod has fallen. And for them, he thinks he still has a fighting chance to keep his image alive.
Just as many Americans remember Mickey Mantle for his tape-measure home runs and know Tim Tebow as a football icon, Rodriguez is still a baseball player first, with a resume that’s hard to erase no matter what else happens. Even with a previous steroid admission, there are parts of his record that he insists are clean — this year there, that stretch here, and of course all the promise he showed as a young player, when he had enough potential that he can say he still would have turned out great without the steroids.
The problem now is that Rodriguez has fallen too far to regain anything in this mess. Many a player has fouled up, admitted wrong and been welcomed back. But Rodriguez is in Lance Armstrong territory — he’s gone so deep and been so defiant (well, maybe not as defiant as Armstrong, but he’s weaseled plenty) that an admission now wouldn’t open doors to redemption. It would just confirm the immense negativity that’s been building for years.
Rodriguez has had his chances to confess or to change his ways, and that of course applies to more than steroid use. He was given opportunities to shelve his immature lifestyle and to be a reputable star. He could have at any point stopped being the person who people loved to call a faker, a fraud and a tabloid-chaser and instead assumed some responsibility for what it means to be great beyond a stat line.
But the allure of attention, and of trying to have it all and be it all, was just too much. No attention was bad attention for A-Rod, and no pressure was too much pressure, even when he kept failing under the larger spotlight.
In that way, the recent steroid allegations only cap the whole A-Rod experience in one final, fitting way. Given a chance to right his wrongs and return to the game he says he loves, Rodriguez has instead waged his finest, tabloid-baiting, finger-pointing crusade yet. Whether a ban or another suspension comes, whether Rodriguez is ever allowed to return to the game or not, he’s written his legacy.
People who understand baseball — or life, for that matter — want him to just take it on the chin and settle this whole thing once and for all. He has decided to appeal instead, and to fight it until the end.
But why not? He’s A-Rod. That’s what he does.
And in some worlds, being A-Rod is ironclad, because some people have no reason to think otherwise. The only way they’d ever find out that Rodriguez had really pulled an Armstrong is if he says so himself.
It’s a laughable place, this final arena of ignorance that A-Rod is still hoping to win. But maybe he played his cards right the whole time.
By putting himself in the spotlight and backing it up with enough performance that he at one time appeared to be truly great, A-Rod may not have to answer the black-and-white question of truly great or not, truly clean or not. Instead, he gets to court the flimsy folks in the middle who don’t know better, who have no investment in baseball, who will buy images and ideas, whose lives are simpler if they get to hear a phrase like “A-Rod: Great Baseball Player” instead of “A-Rod: Biogenesis Reportedly Steroids MVP Stained Cameron Diaz Home Run Record Allegedly.” They are the farthest thing from fans or the informed, but they’re still available for the taking, even as A-Rod loses everyone else.
It’s those people A-Rod has always chased, whether he intended to or not. It’s those people who don’t know the A-Rod baseball knows.
And it’s those people who will still be there now, as A-Rod tries to trick the system one last time.
He’s won the Faustian bargain: He gets to go out his way — but what an unenviable way being A-Rod is.
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