It came as a shock when both the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez agreed that he could be activated as soon as next Monday. There was never any real reason to think that he wouldn't be back with the Yankees eventually, but the constant drumbeat from the media predicting "A-Rod will walk away from his contract rather than face the hostile New York crowds" or "The Yankees will attempt to void A-Rod's contract because he has violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact" or "A-Rod is going to plea-bargain with Major League Baseball for a million-game suspension instead of coming back" or even "A-Rod will be caught furnishing his mansion with ivory poached from the Maasa Mari National Park in Kenya and forced to live on the International Space Station because there are no elephants there (that we know of)" was a form of not very subliminal conditioning that made it easy to believe that no, Rodriguez would not be returning. There was just too much against him, we were told over and over again in a form of special pleading that ignored the roughly 120 million green cotton-fiber reasons he had to find unsuspected reserves of courage.
Still, Wednesday's confirmation that Rodriguez's exile was (Selig pending) just a weird media wet dream felt like the fabled 12th of Never had finally arrived, the day when Hell freezes over. If some part of you suspects that Rodriguez will show up for the Yankees' game at Texas on Monday only to find an empty clubhouse because ownership decided to take the team into hiding and forfeit the rest of the schedule rather than associate with this strangely self-defeating athlete, yes, the thought is irrational, but no, you're not alone.
It would almost be easier if the Yankees did that than deal with the weird on-field consequences that Rodriguez's return will bring. With the team's many semi-healthy geriatric ballplayers making their way back on the roster to join the journeymen and non-prospects who filled in for them, the Yankees may soon find themselves having to find playing time for a shortstop who is a DH, a third baseman who is a DH, and a DH who is a DH. Inevitably, some of these designated hitters (with the exception of human topiary display Travis Hafner, who will suffer complete molecular disintegration if he crosses the foul lines while wearing a glove) will be forced to play in the field. Then, when the team has half its infield playing on something less than the normal complement of legs and displaying all the range of King Tut, we'll find out how good Yankees pitching really is.
The foregoing contains an assumption about Rodriguez's ability to play the field, one based not only on the fact that, having had both hips operated on, he is now seemingly two doors short of a sedan. Even when healthy, he was hardly Graig Nettles at third base. Belying his history as a Gold Glove-winning shortstop, he was merely adequate. He's now 37 years old and roughly 10 months removed from his last appearance on a major-league field. At this point, the arrow of time, and that of ballplayer skill along with it, only goes in one direction. As John Lennon said in "Revolution 9," "Every one of them knew that as time went by they'd get a little bit older and a little bit slower." (Also, "There's this Welsh Rarebit wearing some brown underpants," but that's not germane in this case.) It is possible that post-vivisection A-Rod will combine with Derek "Ankles Aweigh!" Jeter to form a range-free no-man's land on the left side of the Yankees infield, where no ground ball need fear being deflected while making its merry, hippity-hop way to the outfield.
Now, say that pessimistic forecast is wrong and a revivified Rodriguez can continue to be an adequate defender at third. If that is the case and -- further big if coming up here -- Rodriguez can hit even as well as he did last year, he might very well save the Yankees' season. They have received the least offensive production from their third baseman of any team in the major, with the position supplying just four home runs all season and very little of anything else. If Rodriguez can supply something like a league-average on-base percentage and a little bit of pop, a Yankees lineup that has been just good enough would suddenly be -- well, not good exactly, but more consistently able to support a pitching staff that is tied for second in the league in ERA despite playing in the baseball equivalent of a bouncing castle.
If Rodriguez did that and the Yankees were able to make the postseason despite chances which are currently estimated at roughly one in five, the guy who wasn't supposed to come back would be, against all odds, the hero of the season. Then Bud Selig could suspend him for 5000 games or equate him with Chick Gandil or the United Nations could send the black helicopters after him for the whole elephant-killing thing I totally made up before but, let's face it, is probably somewhere in the guy's repertoire of incredibly embarrassing, stupid things to do, but no one could ever take away that accomplishment or blame it on magic performance-enhancing bonobo glands or give the credit to Derek Jeter.
It's not likely to happen. It's more likely to happen than Rodriguez giving up all that money out of a sense of shame -- you'd think Edith Wharton was making this stuff up instead of professional sportswriters -- but it's a possibility. And, you know, the more I think about it, the more I'd like it to happen. Nothing is more simplistic than the prevailing PED narrative, that all of the hitting comes from the contents of the bottle. Rodriguez was, not so very long ago, a heck of a ballplayer, chemicals or not. We could stand to be reminded of that.
It wouldn't change the fact that he did something wrong, or that his sense of ethics scores something like a 1.2 on the Nixon Scale, but if it gave those who have exploited Rodriguez's fecklessness for their own gain, who have profited by throwing him down, a moment's pause, it would be worth it.