CHICAGO - Say what you want about Alex Rodriguez, but he knows how to attract a crowd. And once everyone has gathered around, be it teammates, reporters or the jersey-wearing fans, the man known as A-Rod never disappoints.
We flocked to U.S. Cellular Field on Monday knowing it would be another awkward chapter in the failed marriage between Rodriguez and the Yankees. Like all crumbling relationships, this one has had its share of uncomfortable episodes, and we got our fill of cringe-worthy moments during the first few hours of A-Rod's forced reunion with baseball's most storied franchise.
Packed into an amphitheater-style conference room across the hallway from the Yankees' clubhouse, we watched as manager Joe Girardi tried to explain how he could hate, hate, hate performance-enhancing drugs and yet still tolerate Rodriguez.
Seriously. Girardi attempted to do this. A few hours earlier, commissioner Bud Selig slapped a 211-game suspension on Rodriguez, a penalty designed to keep him off the field until 2015, when the Yankees' third baseman will be 40 years old and feel like he's being propped up on surgically repaired hips twice his age.
Why was Selig so tough on A-Rod? Because Major League Baseball accused the former three-time MVP of not only using and possessing testosterone and human growth hormone for many years, but "engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the [Biogenesis] investigation."
Sounds bad, right? But when Girardi was asked about the ugly allegations leveled against one of his own players -- the guy he instantly wrote in as Monday's starting third baseman -- the manager made everyone squirm in their chairs.
"The thing I try to be careful about in my life is that I'm not on this world to judge people," Girardi said. "That's not my job. My job is to try to get the best out of people and to be there for people and that's what I'll do."
Fair enough. Now all Rodriguez needed to do was proclaim his innocence, say that MLB had the wrong guy and that this was the result of some clerical error between him and Biogenesis founder turned MLB informant, Tony Bosch. OK, maybe not all that. But at least say he hadn't used PEDs in the past decade, since he admitted in 2009 to doing so way back in 2003.
Nope. That didn't happen either. Rodriguez believed that Selig's punishment was far too severe, but when asked point-blank to deny using PEDs, A-Rod didn't come anywhere close to doing so. He punted.
"We'll have a forum to discuss all of that," Rodriguez said, "and we'll talk about it then."
One more time, Alex. Why not do it now? We're all sitting here, Selig has labeled you this generation's Pete Rose, and there's a few hours to kill before first pitch. Wouldn't this be the perfect forum? What are we holding out for -- a PowerPoint presentation?
"There's a lot of things that have been thrown to the wall," Rodriguez said, "and I think when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to do all of that. I don't think the time is right now."
Well, he had his day in the court of public opinion. Before too long, Rodriguez will get another shot in front of arbitrator Fredric Horowitz. But that is likely to have less to do with proclaiming innocence than slicing a hundred or so games off his suspension -- and saving close to $40 million.
Until Horowitz renders a decision, possibly as late as November, A-Rod and the Yankees are stuck with each other, pretending to make nice for the sake of winning a few games. But make no mistake. If Rodriguez was playing for the Tokyo Giants, it wouldn't be far enough away -- for either A-Rod or the Yankees.
"It's going to be business as usual," Rodriguez said.
In other words, as dysfunctional as possible. Rodriguez is now baseball's Public Enemy No. 1, and the Yankees have no choice but to act like an unwitting accomplice. It's not a role to be proud of.
"I don't think there's any room for PEDs in baseball," Girardi said. "I don't believe in shortcuts because I think everyone gets shortchanged when there's shortcuts. I believe the only way to do it is through hard work."
On that note, Welcome Back, Alex Rodriguez.
You're batting cleanup.