Someday, and probably for many years, Alex Rodriguez will be one of the most revered honorees when he runs from the dugout onto the field at Yankees Old-Timers' Days. And in the view of the old-timers who were awash in memories and cheers at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, he will deserve every bit of the adulation.
Rodriguez engraved his place more deeply in Yankees lore Friday night, reaching the rarefied 3,000-hit mark in style with a home run (before hitting a three-run homer and driving in five runs in the first three innings Saturday night). He became only the third player to homer his way to 3,000, following Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter. "All Yankees," Boggs said (although he did it with Tampa Bay).
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Timing was as much a part of Rodriguez's achievement as the style because it happened on the eve of the annual great-moments ceremony. For the most part, his predecessors were thrilled for him and -- his one-year suspension for performance-enhancing drugs notwithstanding -- convinced that his effort ultimately will look as neat as a clean pinstriped uniform.
"One good thing about this country: We forgive and forget,'' said Lou Piniella, Rodriguez's first major-league manager with the Mariners. "He had a monumental challenge coming in to this year, there's no question about it. And he has answered it with flying colors. I'm so happy for him."
Piniella, a big part of the Yankees' 1970s renaissance and later their manager and general manager, said he was "saddened" to see what had happened to Rodriguez's career and reputation. "When he came up with us in Seattle at 19 years old, he worked hard, and he has continued that same pattern throughout his career. He's always in excellent shape. Very prepared," said Piniella, who received a hearty "Loooooo" chant when he was introduced. "He has won the fans over here at Yankee Stadium, and that's really, really heartening to see."
The current Yankees designated hitter certainly has won over Reggie Jackson, who knows how a lightning rod feels. While the other old-timers were at a party in Manhattan Friday night, Jackson was at the Stadium because he sensed something special for a player he likes. "I'm an A-Rod guy," said the man who was introduced as Mr. October.
"The way he has talked about the team, the way he has handled himself, has been like a Yankee," Jackson said. "Last night, there was a moment inside the clubhouse, he said a few things. It was a special moment for everybody.
"You can define it any way you want; it's 3,000 hits," Jackson said. "I think he has been humbled. I think it comes through. I think he's grateful for the opportunity that he's had here and I think he has responded accordingly. People want to see him do well and people believe he has served his time. And for that, I think he has been forgiven by most."
Boggs joked about the list of 3,000-hit homer hitters, saying, "I was kind of content with just me in the club, then Derek joined it and last night we got a new member."
He was in good spirits, racing onto the field as if he were riding a horse, which he did after the 1996 World Series (despite being deathly afraid of horses). But he was far less effusive than others about A-Rod. When he was asked what he would say to Rodriguez, he said, "I don't know. I haven't thought about it." And to the direct question of whether Rodriguez belongs in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Famer said, "I don't have a vote."
Ambivalence will be part of the Rodriguez legacy. Steroids will be an undercurrent at the Old-Timers' Days when he stands alongside Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada (none of whom attended Saturday's festivities).
Jim Leyritz, back in uniform for the first time since his 2010 acquittal on a driving under the influence manslaughter charge, has no misgivings. "Listen, I understand what the word redemption is,'' the former No. 13 said about the man who wears that uniform now. "My circumstance is completely different, but similar in being completely humbled and having to come back and having to swallow some pride. Maybe being humbled for that year-and-a-half really had him refocus and center on what he needed to do, both personally and professionally."
Johnny Damon called Rodriguez "a great teammate" and added, "Hopefully, in time, the game will see how important Alex Rodriguez really was to the game: for the stories, for the home runs, for everything, the good, bad and indifferent."