Most people are sick of anything having to do with Alex Rodriguez. But even if you are — hell, especially if you are — you need to read this feature story on his year and change away from baseball by J.R. Moehringer of ESPN The Magazine. Really, this is not hyperbole. It is an absolute must-read.
It’s a must-read because, as everyone says, A-Rod’s words mean nothing anymore. Indeed, it has been the most common response to his apology from yesterday and everything else he has said. “Why should we believe him?” “The only thing that matters is if he can still play.” It’s a totally fair thing to say. It’s 100% the truth. His word is worth nothing and we shouldn’t waste a second trying to figure out if we should.
But actions matter. Not just the hitting, but how a person lives their life. And in this, Moehringer gives us some amazing, personal insight into how A-Rod has tried to live his life since that day over a year ago when he dropped all of his lawsuits and went into, for him anyway, seclusion. About how he has attempted to come to grips to what kind of a person he has been and what kind of person he wants to be. About how, no matter how many sports writers complain about his apologies not being sufficient to them, there is an audience — an exceedingly small audience — about whom he’s far more concerned.
The article is not an A-Rod apologia. It is not designed to give you sympathy for the guy or to truly reassess him in any way. Again, why should we? Why should we care that much and why on Earth would it be logical to ignore the basic facts about the guy? Sympathy is about pity and feeling sorry for someone and caring, and Alex Rodriguez is a pro athlete who, at best, has entertained us a little and about whom we likely wouldn’t care too terribly much even if he hadn’t acted as poorly as he has acted. He’s a rich and famous guy who did a lot of bad things that should not be brushed under the carpet. And his life is about as similar and relatable to ours as a Martian is to a fungo.
But, I would hope anyway, it creates empathy, which is a totally different thing. Empathy — at its very basic level — is about understanding. Understanding that a guy who has had everything handed to him in his adult life has spent the last year coming to grips with the fact that he’s messed up major. Understanding that the fact that he’s angered some baseball fans or some columnists is not as important as the fact that he has risked his relationship with his daughters. Understanding that, as he certainly wants to return to baseball and be a big hero somehow, he also has spent a year becoming intimately acquainted with his personal shortcomings, is attempting to address them and is thinking about the rest of his life, not just the rest of his baseball career or his legacy.
If you truly read this article and still feel that Rodriguez is best summed up as the sort of cartoonish villain he’s almost always made out to be, well, that’s your prerogative. And, obviously, A-Rod has done nothing to dissuade people from taking that approach. He has made his bed. But I would ask that, for a few moments, you try to assess Alex Rodriguez as a human being and not as a big baseball star who has made a shambles out of everything. That you try to have some degree of empathy for the guy, like we should try to have for everyone who makes mistakes and honestly tries to atone for them. To do so will cost you nothing but a little time.