David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Major League Baseball released the first results Tuesday from online fan balloting for the All-Star Game and the numbers confirmed what we already suspected: Alex Rodriguez's time in purgatory is just about over.
That's been evident for a while now at Yankee Stadium, where the cursory boos from early April disappeared long ago. The 10 home runs and 23 RBIs are a big reason. A-Rod's past sins are much easier to accept when he's productive.
On the Yankees, Mark Teixeira is the only player to outpace him in either category.
Rodriguez had two hits, reached base three times and scored two runs in Tuesday night's 5-1 win over the Royals.
Teixeira ripped his 14th homer and collected four RBIs, the perfect complement to A-Rod's table-setting.
"When we're healthy and in the lineup," Teixeira said, "we can do some damage. And we're showing that right now."
Aside from the turbulence from the homer-milestone standoff -- still unresolved -- Rodriguez's return has been seamless. Not only has he said all the right things, but the Yankees have responded in kind.
"I think he realized, as well as we, that none of that [fighting] would be good for the team," Hal Steinbrenner said last week. "And what matters most to me, and to all of us, and to him, is the success of the team."
Outside of the Bronx, the vitriol also seems to be draining away. Sure, A-Rod is booed on the road, to varying degrees. But what are we to make of the online All-Star voting, which placed Rodriguez third at DH with 351,567 votes?
Rodriguez is a long way from the top. Oddly enough, another Biogenesis offender, Nelson Cruz, leads the pack with 1,225,255 votes. But here's an interesting twist. A-Rod is ahead of his estranged buddy David Ortiz, the lovable Big Papi, who ranks fourth with 340,606.
Ortiz is off to a lousy start, hitting .221 with a .694 OPS, but the All-Star voting usually is a popularity contest -- fueled by PR departments.
Going by the ballots, Rodriguez is the second-most popular Yankee, trailing Jacoby Ellsbury (546,188). Teixeira, a two-time All-Star, is close behind A-Rod with 342,788.
Teixeira doesn't have Rodriguez's celebrity wattage, but on the field, the two are powering the Yankees' first-place drive. Of Teixeira's 36 hits this season, 23 are for extra bases (nine doubles, 14 homers). He and A-Rod have an OPS of .952 and .919, respectively.
On the All-Star front, it's safe to say the Yankees haven't been pushing A-Rod's candidacy, someone they've declared unmarketable for the sake of contract purposes. Rodriguez is doing this on his own, with a surprisingly effective bat and the singed fragments of his torched reputation. We doubt that's enough to get him to the All-Star Game, but the process should be fun to watch -- unless you work in the MLB offices.
Having Rodriguez back in pinstripes is fine. He's served his suspension and forfeited $25 million in salary. A-Rod showing up in Cincinnati for the sport's premier midseason event is a sideshow MLB can do without. Pete Rose will be enough for one All-Star Game.
Publicly, commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that Rodriguez has done a "great job" and that he was "pleased for him." Nobody stays a villain forever in the sporting world, especially when it comes to the stain of performance-enhancing drugs. Cruz hasn't suffered all that much, other than the post-suspension deal he first signed with the Orioles, and then parlayed into a four-year, $57-million contract in Seattle.
Rodriguez is the only player -- other than Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds -- with a PED cloud that follows him everywhere, and that's partly because of the large media contingent he constantly has in tow, and that he's chasing down Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
We won't say A-Rod has been forgiven, but people seem willing to conveniently forget. Or maybe they're suffering from PED fatigue, and resting up for December, when it's time to talk about the Hall of Fame.