David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Alex Rodriguez has come a long, long way this season in terms of rehabilitating his PED-stained legacy. Further than most people could have imagined -- including himself.
But Monday night, we'll find out if A-Rod has climbed that final hurdle, if he truly has gained acceptance again from his peers as well as Major League Baseball. That's when the reserves will be announced for next week's All-Star Game, chosen by a combination of player balloting, and input from AL manager Ned Yost of the Royals.
Bottom line: Rodriguez deserves to be an All-Star. The statistics alone present a very strong case. Throw in his 3,000-hit milestone, along with passing Willie Mays on the all-time home-run list, and you also have historical context.
So if A-Rod's name is not on the AL list, we'll assume there's another reason. One that's obvious, but probably won't be discussed much in detail publicly by the decision-makers. And that's when we'll discover just where the line is drawn in Rodriguez's image makeover.
Will A-Rod's PED past keep him off the All-Star team? Frankly, it shouldn't.
"Well, I hope that's not what people are looking at because the American League is trying to win the game," Joe Girardi said Sunday. "It's important. So I hope people can put that behind them. I'm sure there's been other All-Stars that have had, um, some sins against them and have been chosen. I think he's an All-Star. When you look at the DHs that he's competing against, I absolutely think he is."
Girardi is right on a number of fronts. Nelson Cruz, suspended 50 games for his own Biogenesis involvement, was named the starting DH Sunday night. In the NL, Jhonny Peralta -- another member of Team Biogenesis -- was named the starter at shortstop.
Starters are selected by the fans, through online balloting, so that's essentially a popularity contest. Rodriguez was fifth in the DH category with 2,362,347 votes -- more than 8 million fewer than Cruz. Between them were Kendrys Morales, Edwin Encarnacion and Victor Martinez.
Fair enough. That's the court of public opinion. Or a reflection of a tech-savvy, ultra-enthusiastic fan base pushing for their own guys. But after those starting eight for both leagues, the choices are supposed to mean something. And if the AL really is trying to secure home-field advantage for the World Series, then Rodriguez at DH gives it the best chance.
A-Rod's .903 OPS is tops among full-time DHs, while Cruz -- who leads in HRs (21) and RBIs (50) -- has played more than half his games (46) in rightfield. Rodriguez's 16 homers and 47 RBIs are up there with Encarnacion (17, 50) but his .284 batting average is nearly 50 points higher.
When it comes to PR, A-Rod is batting 1.000. He didn't blink when the Yankees first challenged him on the $6-million payment for passing Mays, and bit his tongue when Zack Hample held No. 3,000 hostage. Then, in one grand gesture, A-Rod settled both issues -- and emerged looking better than ever.
Rodriguez stole Friday's news conference with the self-deprecating line, "I have a PhD in saying dumb things."
There was even a photo of Rodriguez and commissioner Rob Manfred smiling and shaking hands a few weeks back at an MLB event -- 18 months after the two fought like mortal enemies during the nasty battle over his Biogenesis appeal. As impressive as Rodriguez has been at the plate, his fence-mending skills off the field are just as important to this sparkling comeback tour.
And Monday night, we'll see if that's enough to get him to Cincinnati.