David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Yes, Alex Rodriguez was booed Friday night. At times, very loudly.
But he also was cheered. And on a few occasions, a number of fans were on their feet clapping. Even the "A-Rod! A-Rod!" roll call was delivered with a bit more oomph than the other names.
So what does it all mean?
Even Rodriguez, with a 211-game PED suspension hanging over his head, can go home again. But if A-Rod continues to look as bad as he did Friday night, his dwindling number of Bronx buddies will lose patience in a hurry.
As we heard it, Rodriguez received more boos than cheers, let's say a 60-40 split, during the pregame introductions. For whatever reason, that flipped to 70-30 in favor, with a smattering of standing applause, when A-Rod walked to the plate in the first inning.
Why the flip? Who knows? With Ichiro Suzuki on second base, maybe those on the fence about Rodriguez figured a little boost of positive energy could help him get the run in. They were wrong, and from that point on, Rodriguez's homecoming was pretty much a nightmare. He went 0-for-4, struck out three times and was replaced in the field by Jayson Nix for the ninth inning.
If Rodriguez was disappointed, he didn't say. Or stick around to be asked the question. With a horde of reporters camped out around his locker after the game, a Yankees spokesman finally appeared to deliver the message:
"Alex is gone."
Other than the fans getting worked up every few innings, it was as though A-Rod was never there in the first place. The only impact he had on the game itself was a negative one, stranding four runners, including three in scoring position. Nix could have done that.
As much as we wanted to treat A-Rod's return like some sort of great sociological experiment, it didn't really turn out to be very complicated. Sure, plenty of fans had mixed feelings about an alleged PED cheat, but Rodriguez is their alleged PED cheat. And don't forget: Rodriguez is appealing that 211-game suspension.
Ah, yes, the appeal, and the impenetrable shield provided by due process. If not for the rights afforded by the sport's Basic Agreement, and Bud Selig's unwillingness to press the big red button -- the commissioner's "best interests of baseball" clause -- to keep him off the field, Rodriguez wouldn't be wearing pinstripes at the moment.
"He's playing under the rules of the game," Joe Girardi said.
Maybe now he is. But Selig has accused Rodriguez of operating outside the league's drug boundaries for years, and Yankees fans remain divided on how they should respond to that. They know it's wrong. But when Rodriguez shows up in front of them -- signing autographs, sharing a dugout again with Derek Jeter -- it can be difficult to spit the same venom usually reserved for a Red Sox uniform.
Compared with Chicago, where Rodriguez's every step was greeted with angry howls and more than a few expletives within earshot of the press box, the Bronx was a welcome refuge. Frequently, Girardi has referred to the field as a "safe haven" for players under siege, but it's not going to stay that way for long if A-Rod doesn't start doing his share.
But can he? Brian Cashman expects A-Rod to be an upgrade over Nix (.604 OPS) at third, and if he's not, that's a considerably bigger issue than how he's treated by the paying customers. The Yankees still owe Rodriguez nearly $100 million -- minus whatever they get back on the eventual suspension -- and he's not going to come anywhere close to earning that salary. No chance.
"The expectation for Alex has been 50 homers and 150 RBIs every year," Girardi said. "You know that's probably not humanly possible."
We know that now. But it took Tony Bosch, the alleged ringleader of the Biogenesis clinic, to remind us. And Rodriguez, in his apparently weakened state, to drive that point home on a nightly basis.
That act will get tired fast in the Bronx, and then we won't be debating the percentages anymore.