On this his 35th birthday, Alex Rodriguez will take mighty swings for the New York Yankees in pursuit of career home run No. 600.
Normally, this fact would be of great interest to this lifelong baseball fan and former Yankees beat writer. But A-Rod’s bid to become the seventh man in major league history to hit 600 homers only reminds me of B.B. King’s biggest hit: “The Thrill is Gone.”
To cheer A-Rod’s every at-bat, as many fans will tonight at
That is because Rodriguez is a tainted player. Tainted by his own weakness of character, which compelled him to use performance-enhancing drugs.
Rodriguez has said he used illegal drugs for three years, from 2001-03, in what he described as an ill-advised attempt to justify the then-record $273 million, 10-year contract he signed with the Texas Rangers. But he still cheated the game whether he did it for three years or three games, or whether he’s still cheating in a league that does not give players in-season blood tests to detect use of human growth hormones.
It’s impossible for me to get excited about A-Rod hitting home runs because it’s impossible to know how many of his long balls have been artificially enhanced.
It’s hard to look at A-Rod and not see the player who lied to Katie Couric’s face—and to ours—when he said on “60 Minutes” he had never used illegal drugs and never, ever would.
Because of his nationally televised turn as Pinocchio, A-Rod will always be an athlete of immense talent, and almost no credibility.
The Yankee fan in me wants to see A-Rod do well only because it helps my team. But as an adult who believes it is always best to do the right thing, I find him an extremely difficult player for whom to root.
That will be the case three years from now when A-Rod is likely to hit his 700th homer. And in the year 2015 when a 40-year-old A-Rod figures to supplant another morally challenged slugger, Barry Bonds, atop the all-time home run list.
I’ll never forget the excitement of watching Monday Night Baseball on NBC on April 8, 1974, the night Henry Aaron—baseball’s true home run king—hit No. 715 off Al Downing. “Hammerin’ Hank” had eclipsed Babe Ruth, “The Bambino,” “The Sultan of Swat,” as the greatest home run hitter ever.
But on August 7, 2007, the night Bonds hit No. 756 off Mike Bacsik to surpass Aaron, I didn’t even watch the game on ESPN.
Bonds was not worthy of the most coveted individual record in team sports then, and he isn’t now. Nor is the almost certainly drug-stained Sammy Sosa worthy of his current position of sixth place on the all-time home run list, just below Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.
A-Rod, barring injury or a sudden act of vengeance from the baseball gods, will pass Sosa, Griffey, Mays, Ruth, Aaron and Bonds in the next five years. And he’ll do it in the uniform of the most successful franchise in all of team sports, a franchise representing the media capital of the world.
It will be treated as a big story in many quarters. Not this one.
When A-Rod hits No. 763, I won’t hear cheering but instead the sound of B.B. King’s famous guitar Lucille:
“The thrill is gone
“The thrill has gone away…