The nightmare is a reality.
Alex Rodriguez is playing. He’s playing well. And he’s impacting the American League playoff race.
When Rodriguez first appealed his 211-game suspension — thus allowing him to play while the process unfolds — Major League Baseball faced a scary possibility. Not only could a known cheater and baseball’s biggest villain step onto the field with a historic ban hanging over his head, but he also had the power to leave his fingerprints all over the 2013 season. Now, Rodriguez is taking advantage of his opportunity, making a nasty situation that much dicier.
Much of the population, including perhaps his own team, wanted Rodriguez to take his glove and go home. Ryan Dempster might be in that camp, even if he denies throwing at Rodriguez intentionally during the second inning of Sunday’s game. But while A-Rod is a swindler, a fraud and a jerk — call him what you want, really — there’s one thing that he apparently is not: washed up.
We’ll never know how much performance-enhancing drugs truly impacted Rodriguez’s career numbers. From a statistical standpoint, he’s one of the greatest players the sport has ever seen, but because of the ominous PED cloud, all of the accolades are forever tainted. It’d be stupid to think, though, that he wouldn’t have been a terrific player even without putting banned substances into his body. As we’re seeing now, Rodriguez might have a little bit more left in the tank than many of us gave him credit for.
It’s been a few years since Rodriguez was one of baseball’s elite players — dirty or not. He’s had a hard time staying on the field, he looked toast last season and he even found himself sitting during the 2012 playoffs because he sucked, plain and simple. When you add that all together, it only makes the thought of him fading into oblivion that much more desirable, and it reinforces the idea that he’s hanging onto his baseball career solely because of his big contract. But regardless of A-Rod’s motive for fighting his suspension to the death or his struggles of the past few years, the 38-year-old is producing at a high level right now. That’s what matters, and that’s what is frustrating for Major League Baseball.
New York has won six of its last eight games, including two of three against the first-place Red Sox over the weekend, and Rodriguez has been an important contributor. Rodriguez is hitting .319 (15-for-47) with two home runs, six RBIs and a .407 on-base percentage in 12 games since rejoining the Yankees, and he’s clearly getting into the heads of his opponents.
A few members of the Red Sox were outspoken last week about the idea of Rodriguez playing. The tone changed somewhat over the weekend — as both Dempster and John Lackey later pointed to the appeals process when pressed on the issue — but it’d be crazy to think that there aren’t a whole bunch of players across the league wishing that Rodriguez would just go away. Their desire to see Rodriguez vanish will only increase with each successful performance by the controversial slugger.
The Yankees are still 7 1/2 games back in the AL East, and they’re six games out of a wild card spot. While they shouldn’t’ be written off, especially given how rejuvenated New York suddenly looks, it’s likely that the Bronx Bombers will be on the outside looking in come October. They can still play the role of spoilers, though, and that’s why Rodriguez suddenly entering the equation is so unsettling, even if he is well within his rights to appeal his suspension.
MLB wanted Rodriguez to go quietly, hoping that the debacle wouldn’t spill back onto the field. Instead, A-Rod has made plenty of noise, and the field is becoming a total mess because of it.