A feeling of dread creeps over Major League Baseball whenever a steroid user nears a major historical mark. The baseball world tried to shield its eyes when Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron as home run king. Now fans are crying out in audible agony at the thought that Alex Rodriguez has a World Series ring to call his own.
As smarmy, conniving and plastic as any professional athlete that came before him, Rodriguez has made it tough for people to like him wherever he has gone. In Seattle, the guy rarely did interviews and was known to be very negative in the clubhouse. Despite breaking out in Seattle, he proceeded to turn down the biggest contract in Mariners history to take an offer from the Texas Rangers, a club that wasn’t going anywhere in the near future. It didn’t take long for Texas to get sick of him and his 25 million dollars a season contract, so they sold him off to the only club that could afford him: the New York Yankees.
Other than his obvious nickname (A-Rod) and the fitting spinoff (A-Roid), there is one other name that Rodriguez goes by: “The Cooler”. It comes from the idea that teams he joins immediately cool down thanks to his negative vibe and personality, than come back to life when he leaves. The Mariners squeaked into the playoffs in Rodriguez’ last season with the team, then rip-roared into the playoffs in 2001 without him. The Rangers got a similar boost from his absence, posting 20 more wins the year after he left than in the three seasons he spent with the team.
The Yankees certainly cooled off when Rodriguez arrived in the Big Apple. Before his arrival, the Yankees hadn’t gone two years without appearing in the World Series for over a decade. Once he showed up, the perennially highest paid team in the league went five years without going to the big game, even failing to make the playoffs for the first time in decades in 2008.
Rodriguez is as close to a reality TV star as baseball will ever have. He always seemed to care as much about the perception of himself as anything else. When he arrived in New York, a story came out that he saved a young Boston Red Sox fan from being run over by a car. His face peppers the tabloids of New York on a weekly basis, including everything from dating Madonna to hanging out at strip clubs. The revelation that Rodriguez, despite repeated denials, had used a number of products to get an “edge,” became cannon fodder for media outlets nationwide.
Perhaps that’s why, during this latest fall classic, he has finally woken up from his postseason funk. Perhaps the steroid story at the beginning of the year was positive for Rodriguez, in that it gave him a piece of mind that he hadn’t been able to achieve previously. Just maybe, having everyone know that secret and experiencing the vitriol that followed, insulated his mind from the pressure of postseason play, allowing him to make the clutch hits that eluded him in the past.
It’s too bad he couldn’t have been more like Griffey. The best clean player of our era, Junior left Seattle to be closer to his family, rather than for money.
However, even if he hadn’t taken performance enhancers, he would still be a worthy target of hate. Without the steroids, he would probably still be one of the best hitters in baseball. But his contemptible personality, and the negative effect he has on his team, plants him firmly in the company of some of baseball’s least-loved players.