“Damaged goods.” That is what my friend and Yankee fan Frank – he prefers for me not to use his last name – said when I asked him what he thought about Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium yesterday. I was glad that Frank qualified it this way. When pressed about the number 600, he said, “Put it in the books with an asterisk.”
Rodriguez hit a ball to straight away center field, ending his pursuit of number 600 against Toronto’s Shaun Marcum. As A-Rod rounded the bases, getting cheered all the way, it was as if he and the fans believed that this moment was special. Later on, he confessed to being glad it was all over, but for his team and their fans it is never over with A-Rod. Now he and they can set their sights on number 700, right?
Okay, I am a New York Mets fan, but I am also a fan of baseball. I had to check with Frank (with whom I have had lots of heated discussions in the past about our two teams) because he bleeds pinstripes as much as I bleed Mets orange and blue. I can appreciate great Yankees players like Derek Jeter, Thurman Munson, and Mickey Mantle for what they have meant to baseball. But the question invariably with A-Rod is: What has he done to baseball?
I know there are those who don’t care about steroids. They didn’t care when Mark McGwire walked around like the Incredible Hulk and hit all those home runs. Chalk that up for Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds too. They only cared about all the dingers and how it was good for baseball. Good for baseball? Saying these tainted players were or are good for baseball is like saying the Gulf oil spill was good for tourism. Give me a break.
The great sports columnist Mike Lupica, writing in today’s issue of the New York Daily News, says that Bobby Bonds put a message to A-Rod on his website: “Welcome to the club.” As Lupica notes, “Yeah. They’re in the same club.” As always, Lupica hits the salient nail on the head: A-Rod is part of the Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa club, and not the Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth club. Pure and simple, A-Rod’s accomplishment has the whiff of something foul to it.
Make no mistake, A-Rod is a great player. He has enormous natural talent, but the problem is that he sought to enhance that talent in ways that are not in keeping with the fundamental, natural beauty of the game. He is a bad influence on other players who see his success and think, “Why not me too?” Furthermore, he is a terrible role model for kids who aspire to be baseball players, who may think they need to do something even at a young age to enhance their natural abilities in order to perform better, to get noticed, and maybe make it to the big show.
So, in the Bronx in New York City yesterday, A-Rod hit his 600th career home run. I kept thinking, “Thank God he is not a New York Met.” I have always thought that was, as the legendary Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner used to say, “One of the best deals never made.” I know a lot of Mets fans wanted A-Rod back then, but we can breathe easier because all his talent and all his problems are on the other side of town. Let Yankees fans try to sort out how they feel about his legacy and his place in Yankee history; we can be honest with ourselves that it’s better this way.
What about A-Rod’s legacy? As my friend Frank says, “Damaged goods.” So let baseball put A-Rod and his 600 in the books with a big fat asterisk. Bonds said that A-Rod is part of the club now. I guess it depends on how you look at it, but I keep thinking about that great Groucho Marx line: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” Damaged goods, indeed!