Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero? (Final Thoughts)

I’ve lived in New York for two months. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this city it’s that people here absolutely despise Alex Rodriguez. It’s more than steroids hatred, or sucking in the postseason hatred, or trying to usurp heartthrob Jeter’s iconic place status. No, this is a kind of weird personal fetishistic hatred. I’m not sure if it starts in the media and spreads to the man on the street or vice versa, but listening for A-Rod banter in the Subway and reading the tabloid headlines off newsstands has become a hobby of mine. The A-Rod chatter has sunk to the point where people are merely disagreeing over how much and why they dislike the guy. Note this insanely liming poll* I grabbed from the NY Daily News website:

Do you consider yourself a fan of Alex Rodriguez

No – he’s a disgrace to baseball and the Yankees.
Yes – he’s no worse than your typical pro athlete, and he’s still a great player.
No – but it’s not the alleged affairs or steroids – he’s still a lousy clutch hitter!

Well gosh, when you put it that way…

It isn’t just here either. My friend Jamie is a Red Sox fan. When I told him I was writing a story about A-Rod, his first reaction was something along the lines of “Rip him a new one.” When I told him I didn’t hate the guy, it was like I just said I was eating a Siamese cat for dinner. “What?” he said. “I’m going to frame him as a tragic hero,” I told him. Then he called it bullshit and called me out as a liberal apologist. Maybe.

A comment on the last A-Rod post bares repeating. It’s from Ted Miller, who writes a thought-provoking and superbly-titled blog called Waiting for Berkman. His point made me reconsider my own:

“Where he’s gained status as an all-time great hitter, he seems to have lost it as a champion of the sport.”

This is what puts the premise in question to me, in that I don’t think A-Rod ever “lost it,” but instead he never in fact was a baseball hero, in the Jeterian and Ripkenian sense of the term.

To me, he’s always been this great hitter who can’t get anyone to think that he’s a hero at all. We watch him as a kind of a walking stat-maker, an enthralling anomaly, rather than a compelling figure in the unfolding human drama.

I envy a man who can use the word ‘Ripkenian’ and still have me take him seriously – which I do, because he makes a very worthwhile argument. I may have projected my own childhood admiration for Alex Rodriguez onto society. But it seems like he’s too good not to be at least somewhat compelling. Bill Gates is dull, but compelling in his own way. And empirical evidence in the form of paparazzi attention and gossip indicates that so is Alex Rodriguez.

I don’t really know how to end this, because I’m still not sure what I think about it. I don’t have a good enough handle on public perception of Alex Rodriguez and how it has changed since he cracked the Mariner lineup full time in 1996 to completely buy into my own tragic hero theory, but I don’t have enough to let go of it either. It seems to fit; the dramatic rise, the resulting tragic flaw, the self-defeating behavior, and now at least in the public eye, the fall. Tragic Hero is a hard label to apply to real people. I don’t have the luxury of fiction and imagination that allowed Homer and Shakespeare to create worlds and concrete heroes inside them. I don’t have the talent to do it in this world either.

So you tell me. What do you think of Alex Rodriguez? Is he a tragic hero? Is he a baseball-swatting robot? Is he just a lousy clutch hitter?

*Analyze that, Nate Silver!

4 Responses to “Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero? (Final Thoughts)”

  • I love how you call out Nate Silver.

  • You are giving Alex Rodriguez way too much credit in calling him a “tragic hero.” That suggests there is something actually tragic in his plight. I agree that he puts too much effort into caring what other people think, but at the same time his actions don’t exhibit a person who gives a fuck about his legacy.

    That is his biggest problem, and it all really boils down to him being an idiot.

    Look at Albert Belle. That guy was a grade A asshole, just an awful person. Yet, he didn’t inspire anything close to the universal hatred that Rodriguez has accrued. Belle just didn’t give a shit what people thought about him. He did what he did, and for the most part, people really didn’t care.

    Meanwhile, Rodriguez tries to be the perfect citizen on the outside. He tries to be Derek Jeter. But at the same time, he uses steroids, hooks up with Madonna while still married or weakly tries to slap the ball out of the glove of a Red Sox first baseman in the ALCS. Everything he does screams ‘hate me!’

    And yet, it bothers him so much.

    Being from Seattle, I remember when A-Rod left town. Sure he lied, saying it wasn’t about the money, but still, he left as a free agent. Players do that all the time. However, when Ken Griffey, Jr. left town, he held the Mariners hostage, forcing them to trade with the Reds and only the Reds. Yet here we are nearly 10 years later and Junior is being welcomed back with open arms while fans at Safeco Field still drop monopoly money and throngs of “boos” onto Rodriguez comes into town.

    The only thing tragic about it is that we waste so much time thinking, writing and caring about Rodriguez.

  • I don’t know if A-Rod is a tragic hero or not but I do feel people treat him unfairly. The truth is, he is a great player, perhaps one of the best but he is flawed, he is human and that is what makes him so fascinating and why people care and write so much. He is interesting. Jeter is not interesting, he is a marketing robot, he goes out, plays well, says all the things you expect him to say, never a single surprise and people praise him for that. Fuck that Jeter is boring. A-Rod is insecure, so what, lets crucify him for that. I think the fact that it bothers him that people don’t like him is cool. For the most part, it bothers everyone when someone doesn’t like them as much as we never want to admit it. ARod chokes, when have we never choked, ARod cheated on his wife, when half of all marriages end in divorce, ARod cheated in baseball, and we all cheated at some point in our life, Arod wants everyone to like him, thats pretty common too. I think the fact that we have ARod and his insecurities and flaws – his humanity makes the MLB a much better league. Jeter and et al may be the heroes, but give me the human any day.

  • Like most Mariners fans I hated Rodriguez at first. Not for leaving the team when he was, arguably, at his peak as a player, but for the hypocrisy. He said he didn’t want more money, he just wanted to be part of a winning team but then he went to the Rangers for the biggest paycheck in baseball at the time. Then, of course, he went to the Yankees and, as a Mariners fan, it’s hard not to hate him for that too. However, now it’s hard not to see him as a person instead of a uniform and a box score. It’s somehow easier to like him when you hear him talking openly and (at least somewhat) honestly about his past failings on ESPN. If anything the doping (and the marriage troubles) make him more likable (or at least more relatable). Of course, I see him in that Yankee uniform and I can’t help but still hate him a little…but not any more than the rest of the Yankees.

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