Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An A-Bomb for A-Rod: Nothing Shameful About Giving Alex Rodriguez Respect for Hitting 600 Homers

There’s no doubt that most of the sports world was waiting anxiously for Alex Rodriguez to hit his 600th home run over the past 12 days. I know I was anxiously waiting for him to hit it.

Once he hit his 599th, everyone knew the 600th was right around the corner. Of course, most thought it wouldn’t take him this long to get it, but get it he did, in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays today.

Stepping to the plate in the bottom of the first inning against the Blue Jays’ Shaun Marcum, A-Rod probably wondered in the back of his mind whether this would be the at-bat. He didn’t have long to wait to find out, as he sent a monstrous bomb on a 2-0 pitch into Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park in center field exactly three years to the day after hitting his 500th.

The two-run homer, A-Rod’s 17th of the season, came with two outs in the inning, Derek Jeter on first base, and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead over Toronto, which was all they’d need as they went on to defeat the Blue Jays 5-1.

However, while he’s being lauded for his accomplishment, and rightfully so, let’s go back a bit; perhaps a year or so, I guess.

Just a year ago, Alex Rodriguez was arguably the most hated player in baseball. This was because he had confessed to having used steroids during his career, an admission that tarnished his legacy forever for most.

Cries of “cheater” and “douchebag” rose up throughout the sports world from deep within the burning cauldron of disdain for “steroid users” that had been boiling across the MLB landscape.

Before his confession, A-Rod was one of the most beloved and lovable players in baseball.

And it’s not like that love was freely given to him. Well, in the beginning of his career it was, but when he came to the Yankees, many fans saw him as an interloper on what they regarded as “Jeter’s Team”. Most Yankees fans, and baseball fans as a whole, have always loved Derek Jeter just a little more than they have Rodriguez.

Yet, A-Rod overcame this by doing what he does best, slugging the baseball out of the park.

His ability to continue to hit the ball out of the park won him newfound fans, even in New York, and he eventually became one of the “Bronx Bombers” through and through.

Then came the report from Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts that he had failed a test for steroids back in 2003. Her report was the first to break the news, and to say it was shocking is possibly an understatement.

While many believed Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and others were guilty of taking steroids, Alex Rodriguez was the poster child for all that was clean in baseball; or so everyone thought.

The revelation that he was just another “cheater” made A-Rod the most hated man in the Major Leagues.

To most, this shocker meant he had lost their respect forever. He could never earn it back.

Watching all this unfold, you had to feel bad for A-Rod. I know I did. Here was a player who, to some extent, was a victim of his times. For those who disagree, I can only say that if you think the vast majority of baseball players weren’t juicing over the last two decades, then you’re naïve.

That is not to excuse their behavior, but I think it does mitigate A-Rod’s to a degree. He certainly didn’t deserve to be singled out as much as he was and vilified.

However, A-Rod remained stoic through all this. He kept doing what he did best, and went on to get 30 home runs that year, helping the Yankees win their record 27th title.

This season, A-Rod’s goal had simply been to help his team win. Of course, he probably had a personal goal of getting that 600th homer as well, and he accomplished that goal just as he’s helped New York be one of the premier teams in MLB.

Yet, many media outlets, such as ESPN, seemed intent on covering his chase for 600 as if they hoped he wouldn’t get it. Their coverage seemed vicious and spiteful to me, especially since I was hoping he did get it.

And when he finally got it, while I was excited for him, it didn’t seem like there was much excitement coming from those reporting on it. ESPN? Nothing really. No excitement whatsoever.

It seems many, especially in the media, look upon A-Rod as nothing but a cheater still, because of the fact he had a history of doing steroids. I guess they feel baseball fans shouldn’t be rooting for him. I imagine they feel those who do should be ashamed for it.

Now, they probably justify this attitude because of their hurt over what has happened to their beloved game and America’s favorite pastime. However, I think they’re wrong.

First, while not condoning the use of steroids, I’d like to say a few things about the era we’re talking about.

As we all now, back in the 1990s baseball was faltering. The NFL and NBA were “stealing the show” so to speak, with the likes of the “Big Three” in Dallas (Troy Aikman, Michael Irving, and Emmitt Smith) helping the Cowboys win numerous titles, boosting the ratings of the NFL to heights never seen before and Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls doing the same thing in basketball; ruling the game and the sports world like few other franchises have in history.

Baseball, on the other hand, didn’t have much of a “Show” to speak of.

That changed, however, when Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and many others began whacking monstrous home runs and lighting up the scoreboard.

We all know now that they got some help doing so, but one could argue that if they hadn’t, baseball itself might have become irrelevant. In a way, you could say they did it for the sake of baseball.

No, honestly, what if you were in their shoes? What if the game you played and loved so dearly was facing such dire straits? What if you saw a way not only to help your own personal game out, but a way to boost the popularity of the sport you played?

What if you could entertain your fans again, but the only way to do it, was to use steroids?

Now, answer those questions honestly and you might see where I’m coming from.

Steroids helped those players. It helped them heal faster when they were injured, and it helped them grow stronger and more powerful. Yes, serious abuse of steroids is something that should not be condoned, but I think many of the players we’re talking about weren’t seriously abusing them, but simply using them.

And, the steroid era, believe it or not, helped save baseball. There were many people loving the fact McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds were chasing home run records.

Beyond that, A-Rod, unlike many of those players mentioned, only did steroids for a short number of years from what most can see, and there is not a doubt in my mind that he’s been clean for the past few years and was clean last season when he knocked 30 dingers out of the park.

To me, this just shows he didn’t need them in the first place. He probably could have reached 600 home runs just about as easily without ever using steroids. A-Rod probably still would have been the youngest to hit his 600th home run even if he had never seen a syringe.

However, he did do them, and that will always haunt him, but that is not a justifiable reason in my view to not respect what he’s done.

No matter what you want to say, hitting 600 home runs, juiced or not, is an amazing accomplishment.

You’re welcome to believe what you believe, but I’m just going to go on believing what I believe regarding Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, and what I believe is that there’s nothing shameful in giving him respect for hitting 600 homers.

600 home runs are now done.

163 more to go.