One thing I've noticed about l'affaire Rodríguez: Everybody's got a favorite villain. The more popular villain, of course, is Rodríguez himself. But some of my friends prefer Bud Selig, whose hands are hardly spotless in this big ugly mess. Hey, it's cool. There's plenty of blame to go around, and I'll deal with Commissioner Bud in due time.
But rather than pile on young Master Alex, for a moment I'd like to turn the floor over to Master George Vecsey, who offers a take that I've not seen anywhere lately:
Maybe A-Rod never had a chance to be a Real Yankee, but he ruined his image permanently with his scandals and machinations and posturing. He missed the voice in his childhood saying, "Alex, cut that out."
"Dad left us when I was 9," Rodríguez told Bob Finnigan of The Seattle Times in the spring of 1998. "What did I know back then? I thought he was coming back. I thought he had gone to the store or something. But he never came back. ... It still hurts."
"After a while, I lied to myself," Rodriguez said. "I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people."
You (maybe): "Dude, why are you making excuses for this guy?"
Me: "I'm not making excuses for him, exactly. But why does everything have to be so damned binary? Can't we acknowledge that Alex Rodríguez is responsible for his actions and acknowledge that life hasn't always been a bowl of rainbow sherbet for him?"
You: "But guys overcome worse stuff than this all the time, right?"
Me: "Yeah, they do. It's a funny thing, isn't it? When a guy overcomes something terrible -- say, his father disappearing when he's just a little boy, or someone molests him -- we feel for him and we think to ourselves, hey, that guy had to overcome some pretty awful stuff. So why doesn't it work both ways?"
You: "Yeah, but--"
Me: "But nothing. One thing I've noticed over the years ... You show me someone who says every man is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT RESPONSIBLE for everything that he does, and doesn't want to hear a damn thing about someone's dad splitting when he was nine years old, or about the lousy schools he went to, and I'll show you someone who loves to preach about the importance of the nuclear family and sends his kids to the best schools he can afford."
Which is to say that it's easy to preach responsibility and self-reliance and all that jazz unless it's you or your kids ... when all of the sudden you jump for every advantage, socially and financially, that you can find.
So yeah, I have absolutely no problem at all with holding Rodriguez responsible for his many flaws. But that doesn't keep me from recognizing a damaged individual when I see one. The other day in Philadelphia, at around 10 in the morning, I saw a woman sitting on a bench at 10 in the morning. She had a big, fluffy collie-mix with her, and the dog seemed as tired of life as the old woman. Six hours later, I walked outside and they were still there.
I felt more sorry for that old woman and her dog than I feel for Alex Rodríguez, because he'll never have to worry about where he's going to sleep, or what he's going to eat. But that doesn't keep me from finding, somewhere deep in my modest reserve of sympathy, just a shred for the little boy -- and let's be honest, much of Alex Rodriguez remains a little boy -- whose father left without a single word.
Maybe you've forgotten what it's like to be a little boy. I haven't. Sometimes it can be pretty rough. Sometimes it can stay in your head long after you've stopped looking like a little boy. Sometimes all the money in the world doesn't make things better.
I don't consider Alex Rodríguez a tragic figure. I consider Alex Rodriguez a troubled man, I've not yet summoned the energy to despise him as it seems I'm supposed to, and I hope to see him on the baseball field again. That might be the only place in the world where he really belongs.