Alex Rodriguez has gotten so adept at masking his public emotions that he’s probably convinced himself he means it. But no matter how much A-Rod wants to insists he feels “no emotion” upon his playoff return to the scene of his greatest baseball crime, the Yankee third baseman has to know what role he is cast in now.
A-Rod is the supreme villain in this drama in seven acts, the one man who links ALCS combatants the Yankees and Rangers like no one else. If Rodriguez has used these past two seasons in the Bronx to redirect his own personal stage show, replacing his off-putting me-centered diva-ness with a team-first, win-first approach that finally delivered him to the baseball promised land, a return trip to Texas brings the old story to the forefront again.
As much as he wants this to be nothing but a business trip — “No emotion, just that we have four games to win. That’s our goal,” he said — it is so much more.
Rodriguez’s stunning admission in spring training 2009 that he used steroids during his three seasons in Texas was an enormous bombshell, but in the two years since, it’s obvious that the cleansing of his soul served as the catalyst to the more relaxed, focused version of him we see now. For the Yankees, the benefit is tangible. As Rodriguez continues to assault the record books — he hit home run No. 600 earlier this season — he has helped the Yankees get back to championship form.
That’s cold comfort to the Texas faithful that got no postseason return on the record-breaking $252 million contract Rodriguez signed with the Rangers prior to the 2001 season. Three steroid-fueled seasons bloated A-Rod’s personal stat column, but the obscene largesse of the biggest individual contract in pro sports history did little to get the lowly Rangers out of the cellar. Until Tuesday night, the Rangers never had won a playoff series, becoming the last existing MLB franchise, expansion teams included, finally to win one.
They never got close to this point with Rodriguez, whose justification for cheating was the pressure of living up to the enormous contract. The Rangers still are paying for their extravagance, with former owner Thomas Hicks forced to sell the team to the current group led by former ace Nolan Ryan. The franchise went into bankruptcy as part of the sale, and record show that the largest single unsecured creditor on the rolls was none other than Rodriguez.
“I was in the middle of that. I am just happy they got funded,” Rodriguez said. “I am happy for them. But again, we have business to do.”
Financially, A-Rod wins this series either way. But no matter the money he’s still owed, which was $67 million at the time of his 2003 trade to the Yankees, Rodriguez offered nothing but congratulations to the franchise that, for better or worse, altered the course of his professional life. That he tainted the three-year pit stop by injecting “boli” and popping pills he knew “weren’t tic-tacs,” Rodriguez said Wednesday that the realization he would be heading back to Texas brought nothing but a smile.
“Dallas, the whole Metroplex area, deserves a winner,” he said. “I went there many years ago with the intention of being in the position they are in today. I think Nolan Ryan and the GM and their manager have done a terrific job of getting that team to where they are at today.”
Rodriguez isn’t likely to be greeted with the same graciousness he tried to offer Wednesday. The raucous home crowd won’t let him off easily.
“They’re cheering for their team. They want their team to win. I enjoy going back there. I am sure there just being good sports about it,” he said, laughing a bit because he knew past versions of himself would be consumed with getting those people to love him again.