Can Suffering Redeem Alex Rodriguez?

04/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The path to redemption has revealed itself to Alex Rodriguez and in comes through pain.
A-Rod is hurt and his injury is far more extensive than the Yankees had imagined. He has torn the labrum on his right hip, an injury that often requires surgery that would sideline him for four months.
But Rodriguez has chosen to avoid the scalpel for now, in the belief that he can somehow soldier on.
This will be difficult. As the Yankees' hitting coach told the New York Times, the hips are essential in turning on a fastball, which means that A-Rod will have to call on all his many gifts to compensate for the limitations that his body will afflict upon his game.

And yet the news is not all bad. For in what promises to be a seasoning of public and daily suffering, A-Rod can achieve what no scripted press conference or seemingly candid interview can offer: a stab at nobility.

This had been the spring of Rodriguez's humiliation. Busted by Sports Illustrated, he has been forced to confess to years of using performance enhancing drugs. But his confession -- in which he assumed blame but avoided responsibility; I was just a dumb kid -- brought him no peace.

Nor will his injury, which ironically, is just the point. The nobility of suffering did not begin with sports-talk radio hosts lionizing those who play through pain, and questioning the manhood of men, who feeling the need to sit, are somehow "soft."

The hero's trial dates to Homer -- Odysseus's years of trials and wandering until he finally returns home -- runs though Shakespeare and, in a baseball context, reaches its zenith in the legend of Mickey Mantle.

No one suffered as the Mick suffered. No one played so many games so well through so much pain. The fans did not like Mantle when he was young and strong; he was so good that anything other than perfection seemed like underachievement. Only later, when it became ever more apparent that it was all he could do to tape himself from ankle to hip and will his way out to center field at Yankee Stadium that the fans who had once booed him came to love him, loudly.

Mantle could be a boor and a drunk. No matter. The Mick would sleep off his handovers on the trainer's table. But he would never ask out of a game. And unlike, say, Roberto Clemente -- who displeased his teammates by his unwillingness to play when his back was acting up -- the men who played with Mantle admired him not only for his talent but for his fortitude.

So it is with us all. Heroes are supposed to suffer, because in their suffering they reveal qualities the rest of can only look upon with wonder.

But there is more to this than pain alone. A hero is also expected to gain wisdom through his suffering, which is why Mantle had no moment more heroic than when he sat before the cameras, thin and dying, and offered himself as a brutal example of where a life of dissipation could end.

Alex Rodriguez will be tested this season, and the baseball world will watch to see how much he can endure.

But hitting through gritted teeth is only part of the hero's redemption.

Perhaps through his suffering A-Rod might at last discover himself.