At some point in the next few days Alex Rodriguez is going to step to the plate and launch a pitch into the stratosphere. As it lands in the stands, as he rounds the bases, and as the fans cheer he will become only the seventh human being in the baseball history to have hit 600 home runs. And as that happens writers everywhere will fire up their computers and manufacture outrage about steroids, about tainted and illegitimate records, and about how it’s a three-horse race between LeBron, Tiger and ARod for “most hated athlete on the planet” title. It will be very tiring.
It will be tiring because they will continue to attempt to define Alex Rodriguez for the fans, for the game of baseball and for its history and they will attempt to define him as the villain. They will define him as STEROIDS! They’re already doing it. A month ago, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News wrote a piece in which he argued that the pursuit of 600 “lacked buzz”. It lacked buzz, he asserted, not because several players have reached the same milestone in recent history (as Craig Calcaterra argued quite well), not because Alex Rodriguez has plenty of runway left in his career and should break 700 with relative ease, not because his breaking the record was over a month away from actually happening, but because of steroids:
So why does it seem like nobody cares? The 156 home runs he hit during his three years in Texas may as well be placed on a separate list stamped with a giant asterisk. If and when A-Rod hits No. 763 to move past Barry Bonds – and based on the nagging injuries and lack of home run power he’s shown for most of this season, that can no longer be considered a lock – it may very well conclude the most joyless pursuit of a major milestone in sports history.
Not content to let Feinsand corner the market on unscientific analysis and fuzzy math, Tim Dahlberg fired up the indignation machine on Wednesday. His words need no introduction:
Forgive me, though, if I don’t stand up and cheer. Because we’ve all seen this act before. A magical mark. A tainted player. Another entry into the record books we can’t believe. About the only thing missing is an immense, shaven head and the traveling circus that always seemed to surround it. Say what you will about Barry Bonds, he always made for good entertainment. There’s nothing terribly entertaining about A-Rod reaching 600. It’s a joyless occasion for all but the most blinded Yankee fans.
Is there anyone left who seriously wonders why newspapers are failing? To Mr. Feinsand, Mr. Dahlberg and every other writer, pundit and hack out there who will over the next few days feel compelled to contextualize this home run in the conversation of steroids, asterisks, illegitimacy and Barry Bonds: kindly be quiet.
I don’t care what you think about Alex Rodriguez, and I don’t care that Alex Rodriguez took steroids. It doesn’t shake my world. Baseball has been a part of my life since I could think thoughts. I used to read box scores in the newspaper on my way to first grade and Alex Rodriguez taking “boli” in the Dominican Republic doesn’t make me question the purity of my childhood in the least bit. No one can quantify how much it helped him, not Mark Feinsand or Tim Dahlberg, and not even people with opinions actually worth reading, like Will Carroll, Nate Silver or Tom Tango. Similarly, no one can quantify just how many people used steroids, including the pitchers off whom Rodriguez homered. No one can tell me why Rodriguez’s crime is so much worse than every player in the 1970s that was hopped up on amphetamines or cocaine. No one can explain why the line that Major League Baseball draws between what is allowable and what is not constitutes some sort of sacrosanct arbiter of morality. No one can tell me, no one at all, just how many fewer home runs Alex would have hit had he pumping himself full of creatine instead of boli.
But we know this already. We know that talking about steroids is a cottage industry for writers without creative ideas or the ability to adjust to an ever-changing way that we understand and discuss the game of baseball. We also know that steroids has become a convenient excuse to vent pre-existing hatred for Alex Rodriguez. But I’m not going to let people who talk about Alex Rodriguez as if he were responsible for worldwide hunger and the BP oil spill tell me how to think about him and his accomplishments. Yes, he took steroids. He may have taken them for longer than he admitted. He may be taking them right now (note: this would be awesome). But guys like Feinsand and Dahlberg don’t get to define what Alex Rodriguez means to me. He’s one of the greatest players of all time, and last October he gave us a few of the best moments in Yankee postseason play in the past decade. Then he hoisted the World Series trophy above his head. I’m an Alex Rodriguez fan, and I’m not going to apologize when I cheer him on to 600 and beyond. If that makes me one of “the most blinded Yankee fans” on the planet, so be it.