— “There’s nothing [Alex Rodriguez] is doing that violates the morals clause,” an anonymous baseball attorney said in 2005. “Mostly it’s just stupid. Why put himself in a position like that? Why doesn’t he go play [poker] in an apartment somewhere?”
Or in a Beverly Hills mansion. Last week, Star magazine took a break from sifting through J-Lo’s garbage to report that the Yankees slugger made an appearance at a “high stakes underground poker game where cocaine was openly used" and to dump several speculative paragraphs suggesting that Rodriguez and unsanctioned card games are still as inseparable as a pair of face cards.
To me, the biggest revelation in Star’s story wasn’t that Tobey Maguire is still considered an A-lister; it’s the amount of virtual ink dedicated to a hand of Texas Hold ‘Em that happened TWO YEARS AGO. This story would’ve been buried below a detailed analysis of Julia Roberts' forehead creases, if not for the alleged appearance of Alex Rodriguez at the table ... again.
Major League Baseball announced on Monday that Rodriguez would not be suspended but “he will be warned again” — a reference to their 2005 suggestion that he avoid clay chips and dudes who wear visors indoors—“and not lightly”.
Although MLB hates gamblers like Pete Rose hates Bart Giamatti, A-Rod’s poker game wouldn't be illegal in most states and in-home games are rarely prosecuted. This is only a straight-flush- sized deal because Rodriguez seemingly ignored a warning from half a decade ago and because — for some — it provides another example of A-Rod being A-Rod being A-Rrogant.
After eight seasons in New York, Rodriguez remains the most polarizing man in pinstripes, alternately celebrated as one of the all-time All-Stars and ridiculed as a consistent punchline. He’s an admitted steroid user. He’s constructed a public persona that, somehow, is equal parts clumsy and overconfident. And he always wears a pinched, petulant expression that I’d guess is a side effect from spending a chunk of your career under a microscope that sits beneath a much bigger microscope.
At best, he’s the Goofus to Derek Jeter’s Gallant. At worst, he’s Voldemort with a bottomless bank account and better bone structure.
The past week has illustrated that the only thing bigger than the NY stitched on the front of Rodriguez’ jersey is the target that’s been taped on the back, whether it was the frenzy over the (TWO YEAR OLD!) poker game or a just-released batboy autobiography, which made more than one clunkily-written attempt to cast Rodriguez in an unflattering light.
In Clubhouse Confidential, former Yankees batboy Luis “Squeegee” Castillo complained about A-Rod being “childish”, “high maintenance” and a lousy tipper (before noting that Rodriguez “had to make sure he was the highest tipper in the league”). He said that Rodriguez wanted his post-game clothes to be laid out in order, from socks to shoes with “undershorts” in the middle and sweet lord what kind of monster starts with his socks?
Seriously? As one Hardball Talk commenter noted “These are all things that I would probably do if I were a rich and famous Yankee.”
So what does Castillo’s book prove? That you shouldn’t trust a man named for a cleaning product. That no matter what Rodriguez does, it’s wrong. And that Derek Jeter dishes out crappy nicknames.
A-Fraud? I’m pretty sure Jeter didn’t come up with that one, although nobody’s name has been rearranged in more unflattering ways than Rodriguez.
A-Tightwad? That’s a stretch, especially since he was giving Castillo a Benjamin a day to make his post-game creatine shakes.
Pay-Rod? All of the A-Rod based scorn can’t be about the money, not anymore. Back in 2000, when his signature was still drying on that ten year, $252 million contract, the one that took his annual salary from $4.25 million to $25 million, it was. His contract more than doubled the second-richest signing — that of Rockies pitcher Mike Hampton — and was worth more than the estimated value of 18 teams. Then-Padres GM Kevin Towers called it “a sad day for baseball.”
That might have been the first sad day, but it wasn’t the last. Payrolls have become as swollen as CC Sabathia’s midsection. (And his contract: 7 years, $161 million). So, sorry, the money’s not the issue anymore.
A-Roid? Yeah, he’s a steroid user, as are 103 other players whose names were typed on a supposed-to-be-confidential list that was selectively leaked onto the internet.
Is it disappointing to think that three of his best seasons — the ones where he set career marks in home runs (57), RBI (142) and won his first AL MVP award — were powered by whatever chemicals were injected into his bloodstream? Absolutely. But if you aren’t already disappointed by the soaring stats and swollen biceps from the early 00s, you haven’t been paying attention.
I’m not defending his Boli-period, but the biggest difference between A-Rod and those 100-odd other guys is that he’s the only one to go on the record and admit that he did it. In a stilted confession to ESPN’s Peter Gammons, Rodriguez said he was sorry a dozen times and called himself stupid nine more.
Of the seven players whose names were leaked — and this doesn’t include anyone from the Mitchell Report Class of 2007 — only Rodriguez and Red Sox DH David Ortiz are still active. Ortiz didn’t suffer the same scorn, endure the same head-shaking, finger-wagging and hand-wringing directed at Rodriguez, despite issuing a statement that said only that he was “surprised to learn [he] tested positive.”
Rodriguez’ ESPN-filmed PR-move doesn’t give him a pass for cheating or for lying about it, like when he solemnly told Katie Couric that any player with positive steroid tests would be a “huge black eye on the game of baseball.” It was. It is. Rodriguez didn’t throw the first punch, but he — along with countless others — kicked it while it was writhing on the ground.
Le-Rod? No, comparing A-Rod to LeBron is ridiculous, since A-Rod has A-Ring and James’ fingers are still as empty as Jennifer Aniston’s.
A-Plod? Nope. Totally inaccurate. Even former manager Joe Torre, who complained in his book about A-Rod “monopolizing all the attention” still said that he “hasn’t been around anyone who works harder” than Rodriguez.
That’s why I don’t understand the scorn that occasionally comes from the home section of Yankee Stadium. When he’s on the field, Rodriguez goes all out every day. Age and injuries might have started to slowly erode the definition of “all out” but, when he’s healthy, he never gives less than everything.
Rodriguez is the anti-J.D. Drew, Boston’s overpaid (5 years, $70 million), underproducing right fielder, the one whose face always looks like he's in the middle of a prostate exam and who plays with the excitement of a ficus tree.
ACL-Rod? Rodriguez is rumored to make his first minor league rehab appearance Friday, which would be his first action since having arthroscopic surgery on his knee. In the 80 games before he went on the DL, Rodriguez was batting .295/.366/.485, which are actually better numbers than his .270/.341/.506 line from last season.
The Yankees are 18-9 in his absence and one game behind Boston in the AL East. Although no timetable has been set for his return to Yankee Stadium, you have to believe that being out of the Boroughs during the non-issue issue of Pokergate had to help.
He didn’t have to play through it, but you know that he would have. I'd bet on it.