As I write this, it was 11 years ago almost to the hour when the New York Yankees traded a couple of warm bodies to the stumbling Rangers for a brilliantly athletic, if prodigiously self-absorbed, 28-year-old then-shortstop named Alex Rodriguez.
That was 1,293 games, 309 home runs, two MVP awards and one World Series title ago. Fourteen all-star games in his career -14!
Man, how people loved A-Rod. Tall, strong, fast, intuitive, confident, ridiculously handsome. Possessed of everything necessary to be the superstar of superstars in his sport, and a sought-after celebrity beyond it.
Clearly, A-Rod had game with A-lister women, too. A parade of them, and often more than one at once. Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, Madonna, a "Real Wives" star - the guy could have started his own movie studio with the talent. Mix in an heiress, a couple of well-known exotic dancers, and others it is best not to go into here, and most recently, former pro wrestler and one-time Miss Galaxy Torrie Wilson, who has just split with him after three years. He's been known to have a ballboy toss a baseball to attractive women in the crowd, with a message on it to write their phone numbers and toss it back. While A-Rod's dating technique may not be endearing, you can't say the guy doesn't have something in the way of charm, presence and appeal.
I would venture to guess that for most of his career with the Yankees, A-Rod may also well have been the favorite player of kids everywhere. Kids wouldn't have known that his own teammates, fed up with his attitude, often referred to him as "A-Fraud." To them he was a homer-clubbering superhero. Hundreds of thousands of them must have longed to be just like him.
So, how, with all of his talent, looks, fame, glory, over $500 million in salary earned, did Alex become the most hated man in the country?
I mean really hated. Whole television shows are dedicated to villifying him. The whole world seems to be rooting for him to fail and be wiped from the history of the game he made so popular. I've been one of them. There is something very satisfying about seeing the rich and mighty crash and burn. But why so very much fierce, personal animosity for Rodriguez?
Because he used performance-enhancing drugs? Nah. Plenty of athletes have been caught for that, and we are well aware that plenty more just didn't get caught at it. Can't say I wouldn't do it if it got me a pro sports contract. While PEDs may somewhat mar an athlete's image in our eyes, we don't hate them, don't glory in their humiliation and actively wish for ill to fall upon them.
Because of the lies? Not really. Quite a few superstars have lied to our faces repeatedly - including American hero Lance Armstrong and all-time home run hitting champ Barry Bonds. Heck, Bill Clinton lied to us on national TV while a sitting president, and he's revered and admired as an elder statesman. O.J. Simpson very likely may have murdered innocent people, and at the moment, is probably less hated than A-Rod, who, to my knowledge, has never injured anyone aside from himself.
So, what then? The cockiness? Lots of athletes and other celebrities have giant egos and nasty streaks of immaturity. Lots have pearl-harbored even more high-profile relationships. Several have been banned for a time for some pretty awful misdeeds and accepted back with a clean slate - ala Michael Vick.
Jealously of the outrageous money? In part, maybe. But A-Rod is far from cornering the market on making obscene bank, we are not surprised at that anymore. Corporate CEOs, entertainers, and wet-behind the ears tech moguls make more than some small countries (Snapchat CEO Evan Speigal is 24 and is paid $1.5 billion a year.) A-Rod is a pauper next to people like that.
We tend to be a forgiving lot, well aware of our own imperfections. People do the time for the crime, and we're quick to offer a second chance. A-Rod did his year.
His is the kind of story we'd normally fall all over ourselves to root for. A once-great athlete in the twilight of his career, longing for one more season in the sun.
A guy abandoned by his Dominican pro-ball-playing father (who passed away during A-Rod's suspension). A guy who grew up in very modest circumstances and signed a major-league contract right out of high school, giving up a dream of an education to take care of his family. A guy who secretly started taking college classes last year at age 38, flunked his first tests, and worked his butt off to raise his grade to a B. A guy who buys suits for rookie players and quietly pays tuition for dozens of kids to go to college. A guy who has undergone two hip surgeries and struggled his way back into playing shape by running tortuous sand dunes. A doting father of two young daughters. A thoroughly humbled man who spends much of his time on the phone trying to apologize to everyone he had let down.
We eat that kind of stuff up. But not this time. He will be booed in likely every stadium, including his own.
I'm not sure why he's so hated, and if there is anything he can do that would satisfy the lust for his downfall.
One can't feel sorry for Alex Rodriguez; he has brought it all on himself. And if I was getting paid $600 million for the next three years, people could burn me in effigy and I would whistle all the way to the bank.
But after an initial burst of indignant hatred, I realize that such emotion isn't much good for a person.
Maybe, if A-Rod is honest, his experience this year, failure or success, can help young people to see that cutting corners, even for a famous hero, comes with a steep price. He has to explain what he's done, not to us, but to his own daughters. We do not envy him that.