When the A-Rod news broke this morning, I wasn’t surprised or outraged. Nothing that comes out of this ongoing steroid mess can shock me anymore. Rather, I was deeply and truly disappointed.
Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be one of the Good Guys. Since he was drafted in the early 1990s, he had labels attached to him, labels tagging him as one of baseball’s all-time greats. He was a natural talent who knew how to play the game hard. When, at the age of 20, in his first full season, he took Seattle and the AL by storm, we knew we were witnessing history.
Over the years, we know the A-Rod saga. He signed on with Scott Boras who pushed him to become the best in everything. A-Rod couldn’t just be the best player in baseball. He also had to have the best contract ever and eventually had to play on the best team ever on baseball’s biggest stage.
Now, I don’t mean to intimate that Boras’ pushing or A-Rod’s own internal demons led him to steroids, but it’s hard to ignore that theme in all that we know about A-Rod. As the last five seasons have unfolded, we have seen A-Rod’s highs and lows. We’ve seen Slappy McBluelips turn into a two-time MVP winner turn into a non-clutch post-season choker turn into an adulterer and now a steroid user.
Underneath it all, the kid I once was and the baseball fan I still am are both disappointed. I’m disappointed that one of those Good Guys, one of those players who went on TV and told Katie Couric that he never used steroids would turn out to be a liar and a fraud, disappointed that one player destined for enshrinement on his natural talents alone would throw it all away because everyone else was doing so why shouldn’t he.
Maybe I’m being too willfully blind to the history of baseball. Ty Cobb was a racist who never would have played against non-white players. Babe Ruth was hardly a model citizen. Mickey Mantle was a drunk, and countless players have philandered their ways across the baseball landscape.
Maybe the problem isn’t with the players, but maybe it’s with the fans who try to idolize guys who are just professional athletes. Maybe our heroes never existed; we just dreamed them into existence and refused to acknowledge their flaws until it was far too late.
In the end, moral outrage is sure to rule the day. The same reporters and league officials who turned a blind eye to steroids for twenty or thirty years will breach on about the ills of the drugs and baseball’s corruption, past and present. The games will go on, and I will live and die with the Yankees. But as anything scandal breaks, as another big name falls, the part of me that believes in baseball as America, that, as Annie Savoy does in Bull Durham, believes in the Church of Baseball, will feel a little less sure about the game and a lot more disappointment. Who are our heroes after all?