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!