Alex Rodriguez joined the 3000-hit club in dramatic fashion, sending a fastball from Justin Verlander into the right field stands at Yankee Stadium. It was nearly four years after another summertime home run in the Bronx lifted Derek Jeter to the same plateau. Jeter’s quest was inevitable, albeit delayed slightly by injuries. The journey toward “DJ3K” was a national watch, with every game carefully documented in his progress toward the goal. When his homer off David Price landed over the wall, the celebration unfolded according to a script that may have well been written when he reached one thousand. Three thousand was a number that Jeter was always meant to reach and surpass. As for his former teammate, his path was anything but predictable.
If Derek Jeter’s life was described as a fairytale, Alex Rodriguez is starring in a war drama turned soap opera, with a hint of Shakespearean satire mixed in. He was the golden boy, the number one draft pick who burst on the scene with a superhuman display of power at the plate and defense in the field. He signed lucrative contracts with Texas and later with New York. He was an MVP, and then a World Series Champion. Rodriguez was hailed as the superstar who would rewrite the record books, surging up the all time home run list and beyond. Prodigy has a peculiar effect on expectations. Reality is rarely so kind.
Hip and knee surgeries landed Rodriguez on the disabled list; that was only a shadow of the nightmare lurking beyond. On the other side of courtroom hearings and arbitrations, Alex Rodriguez found himself in the midst of perhaps the steepest fall from grace in all of professional sports. A man accustomed to chasing records, his latest feat was the longest suspension in baseball history other than Rose’s lifetime ban. Alex Rodriguez had been everywhere; now he was gone. Meanwhile Derek Jeter enjoyed his year-long farewell tour, arguably the less talented of the two but unquestionably the more beloved.
Nothing epitomizes this more than the immediate aftermath of their respective 3000th hits. With hit number 3000 landing in the bleachers, Alex Rodriguez stated that he could not have imagined the moment unfolding as it had. And frankly, no one could. Who would have thought that one of the game’s favorite villains would become relevant again, even sympathetic? Likewise, in true A-Rod fashion, the latest episode of the prolonged drama that has accompanied his entire career concerned what would happen to his historic home run ball. Contrast this to the fan who caught Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit and gave it back without any hesitation.
However, Alex has done a lot during this season to rehabilitate, albeit only partially, his image. Not many expected him to return to the caliber of an everyday player, let alone as a major contributor to a Yankees team firmly in contention for the AL East division title. He is solidifying the middle of a rejuvenated Yankee lineup, driving in runs and adding to his homer total. Now he is the newest member of the 3000-hit club. He is still in striking distance of 700 home runs, and perhaps a few other milestone numbers on that list. More importantly, he may have another chance to lead the Yankees in the postseason, and his teammates and fans have supported him in his comeback season. Winning has a funny way of changing our perspective.
His numbers will always be called into question. Most fans have yet to forgive him; many never well. It is unlikely the writers will vote him into the Hall of Fame. He is not an All-Star this year, although his numbers put up a decent case. All season Alex Rodriguez has said the right things, espousing his pursuit of baseball simply for the love of the game. He has openly espoused his willingness to adopt a team-first mentality. A fine sentiment, and certainly his best option. Fans root for wins, and Alex has found the way to bring the Bronx faithful back to his side. Suddenly A-Rod is helping the Yankees win, a far cry from when he was benched during the Yankees’ last postseason campaign. Despite his twisted narrative, he has complied one of the most statistically successful careers of all time: 3000 hits, 2000 RBIs, 660 home runs and counting. Those numbers should probably end up in the Cooperstown. Too bad the player probably will not. He likely will not win another individual award. Even if he does, his past transgressions have rendered any pursuit of personal accolades meaningless to most. In a sport that lives by the numbers, Alex is playing the game where his will never quite add up the same way. He might as well just focus a different number: 28, the next World Series championship the Yankees are chasing. To help the Yankees win: that is the best offer he will get, and if the Yankees keep winning, the fans will be behind him, 3000 hits and beyond. Just please make sure he does not catch Jeter’s 3465. AN
This article was concurrently published at NoCoastBias.com on July 8, 2015.