There are very few players in the history of baseball who could hit the kind of opposite field, flick-of-the-wrists homerun Alex Rodriguez hit to tie game two of the American League Championship Series Saturday night. And when you consider the near-freezing temperatures along with the rain that was falling at Yankee Stadium, that number can probably be counted on one hand.
Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. And ARod.
The connection is obvious. Call them the Mount Rushmore of the steroids era in baseball. Of course, they weren’t the only guys cheating, but no one benefited from performance-enhancing drugs more than they did. Bonds, like it or not, is the all-time homerun king. McGwire and Sosa helped save baseball in the late nineties. And Rodriguez signed an unprecedented contract that might remain a record for decades.
Yet while the rest of the group has essentially been blacklisted by Major League Baseball, Rodriguez might actually be more popular than ever. The man has given more curtain calls than Derek Jeter this postseason. He hit another homerun Monday night in game three, and is undoubtedly the favorite to win the MVP of the series if the Yankees go on to defeat the Angels. Suddenly, Mr. May is clutch and everyone seems to have forgotten the sheepish display he put on at the beginning of the season.
Oh right. The confession. When Rodriguez fumbled his story more than the balloon boy’s family, stuttering and crying his way to being one of the most pathetic stories of the year. Is it coming back to you yet? Remember when he stumbled through that interview with Peter Gammons, who isn’t exactly Walter Cronkite, back in February.
At that point, he had the public approval rating of George W. Yankees fans were more likely to cheer for David Ortiz than their third basemen. So what happened? How did ARod win over everyone, even those that couldn’t stand him before he came clean about his steroid use?
Part of it was that he assembled a PR team capable of making Charles Manson as loveable as Charlie Bucket. He was always image conscious, but this year he took it up a notch. He also was one of the most productive Yankees when he returned to the team in May following hip surgery. 30 homeruns and 100 RBI in what had to be the most demanding season of his career is an impressive feat.
But more than anything, the apology, as weak as it appeared, is probably what sealed the deal for Rodriguez. Keep in mind that he is the only one in the group to admit using steroids. Bonds still denies cheating today. Sosa stopped speaking English. And McGwire went into hiding - his hometown is now listed as Parts Unknown.
Rodriguez dealt with it the way his teammate Andy Pettitte did the year before. He was open and before you knew it, the case was closed. We’ll always know that Rodriguez admitted cheating, but no one will really care. He was honest and we like that in our athletes.
Forbes just released a list of the most popular athletes in our country and said that Americans like athletes to be trustworthy and sincere. Tiger Woods, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan were there, proving you don’t have to be all that interesting to be loved by fans.
Rodriguez didn’t make the list. But let’s see what a World Series ring does for him.