Disgraced Alex Rodriguez prepared to battle in court for his home run bonus

New York Yankees’ stance turning reviled baseball ‘star’ into a sympathetic figure

Alex Rodriguez hits his 660th career home run to tie Willie Mays record during a game with Boston Red Sox in the 8th inning at Fenway Park Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty

Alex Rodriguez hits his 660th career home run to tie Willie Mays record during a game with Boston Red Sox in the 8th inning at Fenway Park Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty

 

In the top of the 8th inning at Fenway Park last Friday night, Alex Rodriguez came off the bench for his first at-bat, and the Boston Red Sox fans serenaded him with a predictably lusty chorus of jeers and boos. Moments later, in true pantomime style, the home crowd were silenced as the arch villain dispatched a Junichi Tazawa fastball into the seats atop the Green Monster in left field for what would prove to be the game-winning home run.

When he reached the dugout, some, but not all, of Rodriguez’ New York Yankees’ team-mates were waiting on the top step to high-five the returning hero. In hitting the 660th long ball of his career, he drew level with the iconic Willie Mays at fourth on the all-time list, a landmark that simultaneously spawned a slightly awkward celebration and a potentially ugly legal imbroglio. What might once have been regarded as a truly epic achievement is instead a reason for litigation and expensive lawyers with pens drawn,

A line in Rodriguez’ 2007 contract with the Yankees (worth a mere $275m over 10 years) appears to stipulate that the club must pay him $6m for reaching 660. Their lawyers will contend that clause has been nullified by the player being exposed as a serial user of performance-enhancing substances in the meantime.

The distorted sound of chickens coming home to roost, this is the inevitable consequence of allowing steroids rule your sport for too long. A career long presumed to culminate in a glorious trip to baseball’s revered Hall of Fame must now take another demeaning detour through the courts.

Memorable literature

“It is the sole discretion of the New York Yankees to determine whether each of these milestones is commercially marketable as the home-run chase,” reads the relevant section of his contract. “The Yankees have the right, but not the obligation, to determine whether it’s a commercially marketable limestone.”

The right but not the obligation, the phrase on which the arbitration between the two parties is expected to hinge. Should Rodriguez prevail, the Yankees must fork out over $6 million now, and again in the unlikely event he hangs around long enough to draw level with Babe Ruth (714 home runs), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762).

Far more than a potential $24 million is at stake here. The real issue is that the entire farrago has exposed the sordid fact that in baseball’s lengthy love affair with steroids, the owners were as culpable for the chemical charade as anybody. Sure, it was the players’ union which fought so long to ensure baseball was the last major professional sport to introduce mandatory testing but the owners’ lack of gumption on the issue made them complicit too.

As balls flew out of the yards at a historic pace, fans streamed through the turnstiles in huge numbers, and first basemen morphed into oversized Popeyes, it seemed everybody was making so much money that nobody really wanted to shout stop. In the type of karmic coda that all involved totally deserve, Rodriguez will be represented in this tawdry dispute with the Yankees by the same union that enabled the steroid era.

How ironic that they will try to get a twice-convicted user $6 million as a reward for home runs hit while taking the very substances the union always claimed were not really a problem. The Yankees will no doubt claim that has devalued the achievement and made it impossible to market, a dubious assertion while the club is busy preparing to celebrate the career of former pitcher Andy Pettitte, another drug-using alumnus, later this season.

Private detectives

Since he returned to the fold to earn a guaranteed $61 million between now and 2017, Rodriguez has, for the first time in his career, tried to play the part of the good soldier. Every interview seems to adhere to a well-rehearsed script about helping the team, his interest in advising younger players in the locker-room, or his gratitude for what the game has given him.

“I don’t know what it means,” said the 39-year-old after hitting 660. “I mean, a year ago, I was in a cave in Miami serving my time. To be here today with you guys, with the fans, my team-mates, I am very thankful.”

Commentators have pointed out that, in refusing to pay the bonus, the Yankees have achieved the impossible, somehow turning Rodriguez, one of the most reviled characters in American sport, into a sympathetic figure. Indeed, the supportive tone of fans on New York sports talk radio would seem to indicate a lot of them are siding with the player.

Sport here has a large, vocal and myopic constituency that couldn’t care less how wondrous athletic feats are achieved as long as they get to witness them. Those people are standing by A-Rod. It is their right and, after cheering so many other cheats through the years, their obligation.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.