BOSTON — Alex Rodriguez showed again Friday why he’s one of the greatest villains in Major League Baseball history.
It’s not a title many players strive for when they break into the bigs. And surely, it wasn’t Rodriguez’s intention to achieve epic heel status when he made his major league debut for the Seattle Mariners against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 8, 1994.
But over the last 21 years, and especially during Rodriguez’s 11 seasons with the New York Yankees, no one has shown an uncanny knack for playing the role of bad guy quite like A-Rod.
Rodriguez’s mere presence on an MLB diamond can be unsettling, even in spite of his recent apologetic behavior. To many, the man is a cheater and nothing short of a disgrace, making it difficult to stomach his return to game action let alone his reemergence as a productive player.
A-Rod remains a lightning rod, though. His every move is examined — usually criticized — and drama tends to follow the controversial slugger. So with Rodriguez closing in on yet another milestone, of course he was going to save his bullets for the perfect moment. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Does this mean Rodriguez conscientiously decided to not hit home run No. 660 — tying him with Willie Mays for fourth place on MLB’s all-time home run list — until the eighth inning of Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox at Fenway? Of course not.
But given how entangled Rodriguez’s career has been with Boston and how irritably he was greeted Friday by the Fenway Faithful upon being announced as a pinch-hitter for Garrett Jones with the score tied, the stage was set perfectly for one of the most hated athletes in sports history to piss off everyone yet again.
“A year ago today, I never thought I’d be hitting home runs and helping the Yankees win,” said Rodriguez, who lined a 3-0 fastball from Junichi Tazawa into the Green Monster seats to propel the Yankees to a 3-2 win shortly after being showered in boos. “Being in the middle of it is fun again.”
Fun for A-Rod, maybe. Fun for some Yankees fans, maybe. Fun for his teammates, who applauded his milestone homer on the top step of the visitors’ dugout, maybe.
But not fun for the Red Sox. Not fun for those who hoped he’d never return from last year’s season-long, performance-enhancing drug suspension. Not fun for baseball purists who would prefer to see Steroid Era guys, like Rodriguez, scrapped from the record books. And not fun for Yankees management and ownership, which are fighting the $6 million contract incentive that was supposed to kick in with Friday’s blast.
For every one A-Rod supporter, there’s about 10,000 haters who wish the 39-year-old stayed home in Miami rather than return to The Show this season to wreak more havoc on the Red Sox, the league and the Yankees’ checkbook.
Villains don’t go quietly, though. And A-Rod, the best of the best in that regard, is making a whole bunch of noise on his way out the door.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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