A sports hero whose career appears very human
GalleriesA-Rod hits 600th homer; Yankees 5, Blue Jays 1 A-Rod's ups and downs as a Yankee Alex Rodriguez
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He'll never be normal, and Alex Rodriguez will never be smooth, either. His life story will never seem scripted by the baseball gods, as often seems the case for A-Rod's teammate Derek Jeter.
Yesterday, to pick the latest example, a perfectly gracious A-Rod had his postgame news conference oddly interrupted when Yankees radio announcer John Sterling walked in front of the podium - after dropping off his scorecard as a souvenir for A-Rod's 600th-home run game. Uproarious laughter ensued.
Yet as he approaches his baseball old age, Rodriguez continues to progress on the goal he stated last year. With each big moment, he seems to become less of a celebrity and more of a baseball player.
"There are certain things I would like to go back and change," A-Rod said Wednesday after his homer sparked a 5-1 victory over Toronto at Yankee Stadium. "But the truth of the matter is, none of us can go back and change time. I knew with the green I had in front of me, I would have a chance to rewrite some of the chapters in my life and in my career. I'm trying to do things right.
"I said a lot of things in Baltimore [last May]. It wasn't just enough to say it. I had to go out and walk the walk."
"In Baltimore," in A-Rod-ese, will forever mean May 8, 2009, his first game of last season. It came in the wake of his confession to using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, as well as hip surgery, and he spoke extensively of changing his priorities.
He hasn't really gone from, say, Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. He still likes to date celebrities, and he still angered Yankees officials last offseason when he lied to them about his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea. He found himself, unwittingly or not, embroiled in a mess with Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden earlier this season - a kerfuffle heightened all the more when Braden later pitched a perfect game.
Nevertheless, Rodriguez has come a considerable way from the man immortalized by author Joe Torre as "A-Fraud."
His postseason excellence last autumn eradicated the notion that he couldn't come through when it really mattered, and with the Braden mess as a notable exception, he has managed to avoid providing back-page quotes that cast him as selfish and/or oblivious.
Moreover, many of us, with time's perspective, have realized how silly it is to cast moral judgment on A-Rod's decision to use illegal PEDs. The argument here is that A-Rod's 600 homers are just as legitimate and "clean" as anyone else's. Every statistic stands as a product of its time.
It took Rodriguez 51 plate appearances to get from 599 homers to 600, and he certainly was pressing as the days piled up. So when he squared up on a Shaun Marcum fastball Wednesday, crushing No. 600 into the netting above Monument Park, you could feel the relief emanate from the Yankees' dugout.
"I think I still have a lot of work to do, both on and off the field," Rodriguez said. "Like I said at that press conference, I think I still have time in front of me to do things the right way."
If Jeter comes off as a baseball god, particularly in the Bronx, then A-Rod is utterly human, always. Overcoming a rough childhood, and working through myriad mistakes as an adult.
They played music from "The Natural" as A-Rod circled the bases, and . . . yeah, on one hand, not a real good choice. On the other hand, however, Roy Hobbs was a great athlete who received a second chance to make things right.
Six hundred means that A-Rod is getting older, and not necessarily better; his season statistics are quite poor, for him.
He does appear to be getting wiser, though. And in this town, on this team, with his history, that's anything but insignificant.