If pressed to cite my longest-running passion, it would have to be the New York Yankees. I began visiting the Stadium before I could walk. I was there for Charlies Hayes' catch as the Yankees secured the World Series in 1996. By pure luck, I sat far up the right field upper deck when David Wells tossed his perfect game. I saw Seaver's 300th win in 1985. And there were the dramatic shots by Tino and Derek in the 2001 Series. And yes, I was there for many dreadful games during the eighties. In addition to being on hand for many memorable games and moments, the circus that is often Yankees baseball has provided years and years of memories. From Billy Martin to Yogi's boycott and Winfield's bird incident to Jack McDowell's own bird incident, through ups and downs, the Yanks are never lacking in excitement and drama.
I can vividly remember the day the Yankees surrendered Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez. Despite his massive talents and a decade-plus of years ahead of him, I was devastated. Not only was Soriano one of my favorite Yankees, but I just couldn't imagine a player like A-Rod transitioning to New York. The Yankees' run of the late 90's was not brought on by any superstar talent, but rather a collection of gutsy, hard-working and selfless players, the likes of Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, El Duque and David Cone. There was a cohesiveness to those teams that I just couldn't imagine A-Rod fitting into. And then there was the pressure of tossing on the pinstripes. Many gifted players have signed on to the Yankees over the years, and quickly saw their talents buried under the pressure of the New York media and fans. Those were my fears with Alex Rodriguez.
How Rodriguez has fared with the Yankees in his first five years is well documented. He puts up massive numbers during the regular season but disappears in the postseason. His on-and-off the field distractions and endless tabloid appearances anger the fans to no end. There was the slap at Bronson Arroyo and the pop-fly incident in Toronto. But through all the ups-and-downs, he remained a Yankee, and as such, most of us defended him. Or at the very least, we simply kept quiet.
As he continued to struggle in the postseason, patience started to wear thin. How could a player of such enormous talent and ability fall so flat in October? It was pretty clear that it was all in his head. The pressure of New York didn't manifest itself so much over the course of a long regular season, but once it came down to the meaningful at-bats that could determine the season's outcome, A-Rod would seize up. But again, he was a Yankee, and after the 2007 signing, he wasn't going anywhere. We would continue to pull for him.
And then came Saturday morning. The whole baseball world was turned inside out again, as arguably the greatest talent ever to play the game, Alex Rodriguez, had tested positive for steroids in 2003. Unlike the media at large, I didn't immediately pounce at the opportunity to finally put an end to supporting A-Rod. Not because he's a Yankee, but rather because I've never considered individual players as the primary deviants throughout the steroid era. Before you click to close this page, let me briefly explain. At some point in the 90s or so, performance-enhancing drugs started to run rampant throughout baseball. As the culture almost became the norm, the league reaped the benefits. Following the strike season of 1994, baseball needed something to shine the spotlight back on this wonderful game. As 1998 rolled around and baseballs were leaving parks at a rapid rate, the public started to move past '94. We all remember the spectacle of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Once again, baseball was everywhere. It was thrilling to see them chase Maris and ultimately move past him.
We'd later learn that this was all a scam. Those records were attained not solely by talent and hard work, but also by drugs. The purest game in America was suddenly turning sour fast. We questioned everyone and everything. And through it all, Bud Selig, the commissioner of the game, turned a blind eye. As more and more players turned to the juice, what were the clean players supposed to do? Should they allow a portion of the league to put up tainted numbers and watch their hard work be overshadowed by cheaters? And since the league's top brass were doing very little to stop this behavior, this only added to the lure. I am in no way excusing those who cheated the game, but this fiasco is deeper than any one player's indiscretions, as egregious as they may be.
After two days of nothing from Rodriguez, he has now come forward and admitted that he did take performance-enhancing drugs while a member of the Texas Rangers. Unlike Clemens, McGwire and Palmeiro, who are about as easy to track down as bin Laden, and unlike Giambi and Pettitte who offered up somewhat weak admissions, after first viewing, it appears as if Rodriguez is saying a lot. He has admitted to taking substances for well over two seasons. Sure, maybe he had no choice but to come clean, but my initial reaction to his first statements is that I'm finally seeing this amazing talent let his guard down. He's finally dropped the false pretenses and revealed his insecurities and errors. And despite all the baggage that his past and the last few days' news has brought, at least for today, we're seeing a side of Alex Rodriguez that fans just might accept.
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