Alex Rodriguez Playing Under Suspension May Be Wrong, But He’s Not Necessarily Helping Yankees in Playoff Race

Alex RodriguezYes, Alex Rodriguez is annoying. Yes, he’s even vile. Having a proven cheat continue to play baseball is a pain, and it’s insulting, and it would be lovely if it could be stopped.

But Rodriguez will keep playing baseball, because whether he plays or not is not a decision for summer 2013. It’s a decision for 2007, when he first admitted to using steroids (after getting trapped), or for 2000ish, when Major League Baseball first knew it had a giant drug problem (after getting its feet held to the fire).

Major League Baseball is the parent who let the kids run the house too long. Judge the parent all you want, but the damage is done, and trying to corral the kids now is beside the point. MLB allowed the use of performance-enhancing drugs for years, and the measures for dealing with suspensions that are in place now had already been agreed on. The only mishap in this appeals process is that it is so public, because every other player who has fought a suspension has been able to do it without anyone knowing until the appeal was denied.

It’s still revolting that Rodriguez is playing, especially as some of the more distasteful of the reports surface, such as him supposedly throwing a teammate under the bus or him accusing the Pinstripe management of trying to injure him.

But what’s most revolting is not that Rodriguez is still playing, but that he’s playing. That’s right — the 38-year-old slugger, whose body was supposed to be ravaged by steroid use, is patched up and playing — and playing well. In 12 games since returning from his hip injury, he’s hitting .319 with a .407 on-base percentage. He’s hit two home runs, tallied 15 hits and driven in six runs. Biggest of all, he was in the middle of numerous scoring sequences over the weekend, when the Yankees were trying to claw back into the American League East race against the Red Sox.

That’s what has most people upset in all of this — that Rodriguez is allowed to affect a potential playoff race. Without him playing at third, the Yankees would be forced to call up a minor leaguer, and even a damaged A-Rod is better than that. But, as Rodriguez has shown since returning, he’s far from a damaged A-Rod — he’s playing at his level, he’s a threat in every at-bat and he’s producing at a decent clip.

Rodriguez playing well is an extra kick in the shorts for proponents of karma, who want not only to see players who have betrayed their trust fail miserably but who also believe that the only good byproduct of steroid use is one day getting to watch the player who used the steroids break down. Neither is happening with Rodriguez, at least not yet. The criticism and health issues haven’t affected his performance the way that, say, the arrival of colored leaves in the fall have, making it just a bigger injustice that he’s still allowed to play.

But those who dislike Rodriguez should take a breath before lamenting too much about him contributing to a final surge for the Yankees. In Rodriguez’s return, New York has played well — but New York has not necessarily played well because of Rodriguez’s return.

The Yankees are just 7-6 since Rodriguez came back. If they have received a boost recently, it has been from the left fielder they acquired who had 18 RBIs over four games (Alfonso Soriano). Rodriguez has had his hits and contributions, but they’ve been at very Rodriguez times — when he needed them, not necessarily when the team did.

On Sunday night, Rodriguez got drilled and answered with a bomb, but it was a bomb that allowed him to circle the bases, cursing, and then escalate the rivalry — and attention-seeking — when he mocked David Ortiz and the Red Sox. The hit was part of a Yankees win, as was the beaning, but the manufactured intensity would have never been needed if Rodriguez hadn’t upped the ante in the first place. Rodriguez wouldn’t have been hit — and the Yankees wouldn’t have been in the position of having to deal with his complications — if he had hadn’t gotten into trouble (pick whichever example you’d like) in the first place.

If the Yankees are overcoming monumental hurdles to make their way to the postseason, it’s because Rodriguez helped provide such hurdles. Every hit he provides is penance for the place he’s put the Yankees, and just because those hits come at times that are best for Rodriguez does not mean they come at times that are best for the team.

Like his favorite type of homer — say, a 450-foot bomb in the bottom of the fifth with his team down seven runs — Rodriguez’s contributions this year have been sufficient on the surface but lacking in substance, no different than what Rodriguez has contributed on and off the field for years. He may be back, and he may be hitting, but whether he’s actually helping the team is another question.

For all that Rodriguez will contribute on the field this year, he has also put the Yankees under added pressure — and that’s not even getting into what he’s cost the team financially, for the future or in front office stress.

It’s upsetting that Rodriguez stays in the game, and that he’s chasing Willie Mays on the home run record list, and that a good manager like Joe Girardi is running out and getting run out defending a situation that has been out of hand for some time. None of this should have to be happening.

But don’t fret, those who think Rodriguez will affect the pennant race. The Yankees may be trying to surge after a first half filled with injuries, but getting Rodriguez back means they’re just trying to surge with all his baggage, too.

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