On February 16, 2004, I was standing in line at Cinnabon (obviously) at a rest stop off I-95 in Maine. I was 11. My family and I were en route to Sugarloaf Mountain for a weeklong ski vacation. My dad was about to ruin the whole trip with calamitous news. He walked out of the bathroom, stared at the television for a half a minute, and approached me.
“Did you see?” he asked.
“See what?” I replied, in what became my last moment of blissful childhood innocence.
“It’s A-Rod,” he reported. “He’s a Yankee.”
Instant tears. I grasped onto my father and hugged him until the Cinnabon Regional Manager coaxed me away with an extra tub of icing. The remaining two hours of our car ride to Sugarloaf were unpleasant. I balanced intense weeping with exhaustively explaining to my mother what had made me so upset.
The previous four months of my life had been an unprecedented emotional roller coaster. In October 2003, I witnessed my beloved Red Sox fall to the Yankees in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series. Determined to get back to the ALCS and overcome their rival, the Sox sought to trade for superstar Alex Rodriguez. From the beginning of November 2003 until mid-February 2004, the trade went from promising to doubtful, back to promising, to practically complete, then back to doubtful, to completely dead, then kinda-sorta alive, back to dead, back to practically complete, and then back to dead again. Each day after school, I would watch hours of ESPN, praying that every story turned into a breaking news segment announcing that A-Rod was officially a member of the Boston Red Sox. It never happened. But until February 16, I held onto the faintest sliver of hope.
At the time, Alex Rodriguez was more than a superstar athlete. He was more than a role model. He was a once-in-a-generation talent, prominently displayed on the Mount Rushmore of American sports. He was a beacon of hope for the sport of baseball and an instant catalyst for any franchise. Little Leaguers everywhere whispered, “Now batting… number three… Alexxx Rodddrrigggueezz” as they mimicked his batting stance in their backyards. In 2000, he became the youngest free agent to hit the open market and his talent and promise earned him 252 million dollars. He was called greedy and arrogant, but it didn’t matter. There was nothing like him in the sport of baseball; he made the game exciting. I loved A-Rod.
When he was traded to the Yankees, I was ineffably devastated. But today, I’m eternally grateful. That process, which saw my opinion on A-Rod shift from absolute lust to fervent abhorrence, took exactly ten years. Had you told 11 year-old me that 21 year-old me is thankful for the trade that brought A-Rod to the Yankees, you’d have been punched by a chubby 11 year-old with Cinnabon icing trickling from his chin.
But it’s true. I’m forever thankful that A-Rod is a Yankee. In fact, the only three things I’m more thankful for than A-Rod not being on the Red Sox are my life, my family, and my friends. Seriously. I’m more grateful that A-Rod is a Yankee than I am for the ability to hope and dream, smiling, the existence of changing seasons, support systems, the concepts of companionship and love, good health, my ability to think and form opinions, modern technology, and freedom. That’s not a joke. It’s fucked up. But it’s not a joke.
This isn’t my story, however. Yes, the last ten years witnessed my transformation from hopeless to appreciative. But it’s more of an A-Rod story, because his transformation is infinitely more significant. My story is merely a shift in perspective; his is a cataclysmic defamation of character. Here’s the Spark Notes version of how it happened:
A-Rod was a rare and phenomenal talent who took steroids and lied about it. Despite myriad testimonies from veritable sources and clear connections to the Biogenesis scandal, Alex insists the only time he took a performance enhancing drug was sometime between 2001 and 2003 when he wanted to boost his energy. The sports universe has seen countless examples of someone cheating. Without fail, lying afterwards only exacerbates one’s public image. In A-Rod’s case, so did pouting. And slandering innocent people. And taking this picture for Details Magazine. And associating himself with prostitutes, exotic dancers, and Tony Galea, a Canadian doctor who was federally investigated for smuggling drugs into the United States. Of course, not having a productive season since 2010 hasn’t helped, either. A-Rod’s reputation spiraled so out of control that his own General Manager, Brian Cashman, advised him to “just shut the fuck up.”
It’s worth repeating: The problem isn’t just steroids. A lot of people took steroids. Had Alex owned up to his mistakes and apologized, we would have forgiven him. Instead, his pride — a singular pride bigger than any home run he’s ever hit — convinced him to do anything and everything to save face. So for the last year, A-Rod has served as a crusader without a cause. Well, I guess there’s a cause, but it’s a bad cause. It’s a no-good, dirty rotten cause. It’s an immature child’s cause.
Come to think of it, it was my cause when I was obsessed with A-Rod at age 11. Back then, I would lie to all my 6th grade friends so they’d think I was cooler. I’d tell them I was talking to a girl from my old school, that I was scoring 30 points per game in my basketball league, and that I didn’t have a bedtime because I wasn’t a baby anymore. I was a baby. But I grew out of it. A-Rod hasn’t.
Ten years ago, he possessed limitless potential as both an athlete and role model. Nowhere does there exist a What A Difference 10 Years Can Make campaign (no, seriously, I looked it up). But if it did exist, A-Rod would be its consummate poster boy in the worst way imaginable.
Alex Rodriguez stopped being my hero the day he was traded to the New York Yankees. I got lucky. As for the 11 year-old who had to grow up with a selfish, immature role model? Well, that just sucks. Of course, that’s a life lesson, too. At some point, whether it’s through the actions of a super star athlete or at a Cinnabon in rural Maine, we learn that some things just suck. And everything about A-Rod — the steroids, the strippers, the lying, the sulking, the full transformation from hero to villain — just sucks.