In the past week or so, even the most ardent of Alex Rodriguez haters have come out with columns that, while not exactly love-letters, acknowledge that A-Rod has been pretty darn effective on the young season. And that he’s even been popular, what with the cheers he’s received from Yankees fans. The consensus that seems to be forming around A-Rod at the moment is that, for all of the crap of the past few years, maybe all that matters is what happens on the baseball diamond.
Even Bob Klapisch — long one of A-Rod’s fiercest critics — is generally positive in his assessment of Rodriguez’s early season performance. And even he doesn’t just snippily assume that it’s because Rodriguez is back on drugs. Sure, he raises the subject, but concludes:
I have to assume Rodriguez is playing clean in 2015; it would be professional suicide to resume cheating after being caught, confessing and being subjected to industrywide humiliation.
Raising the topic? Fair, given A-Rod’s history. Also fair, however, is Klapisch’s conclusion. It’s possible A-Rod may once again find himself in hot water, but at some point one has to ascribe human motivations and feeling to A-Rod and one has to assume that even he is not so dumb as to tempt fate and a lifetime ban.
But our friend Thom Loverro of the Washington Times isn’t of the same mind. He asks multiple rhetorical “do you honestly believe A-Rod’s current performance?” questions and follows up with:
Do I think Alex Rodriguez is using some sort of banned performance-enhancing substance? I think if you cut A-Rod open, Ben Johnson would fall out. You have to question the intelligence of all of us if we were to believe that A-Rod — who repeatedly publicly lied over his career about using performance-enhancing substances — represents the truth now . . . I think A-Rod would inject plutonium in his veins if he meant we would like him again.
So, unless you believe what Loverro believes, you’re dumb.
But is there not a third option here? The option of not buying into the notion that everyone has to trust or mistrust Alex Rodriguez? That our enjoyment of baseball does not, contrary to the very premise of Loverro’s column, depend on us taking the word of a player or buying into his integrity? Sure, the game itself must have integrity or else we’re just watching theater, but if you’re the sort who believes that baseball as a whole has been rendered illegitimate by PEDs already, you’re not watching it anymore. Or, at the very least, you’re just hate-watching, in which case you need professional help.
Alex Rodriguez is playing well right now. That may continue, it may not. He may be found to be on drugs again or he may not. But we don’t have to trust him. It’s not written on our tickets or in our cable TV customer agreements that we do. We can simply watch and enjoy the game and note what happens with a response appropriate to how much we choose to allow the given events to impact our lives and moods.
It’s the oldest trick in the columnist book to make you think otherwise. To make you think that what he or she is on about is life or death or even important and that the way they frame the debate is the only approach one can take. Well, it’s not. And if you are the well-adjusted sort who doesn’t let the exploits of a 40-year-old baseball player hundreds of miles away from you impact your approach to trust and integrity, you can’t help but look at the column in question and wonder whether we can any more trust the columnist to present sports to us in a meaningful way than he can trust this ballplayer he’s ranting about.