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MINNEAPOLIS -- On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig, a 35-year-old man dying of an insidious disease that would one day bear his name, stood before a bank of microphones set up at home plate at the old Yankee Stadium and famously proclaimed himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
On the same day 74 years later, in the pages of a newspaper, Alex Rodriguez, a 38-year-old man in the prime of health and with another $114 million guaranteed him, portrayed himself as a beleaguered victim of circumstances heroically determined to fight on despite what he believes to be the unwarranted scorn of his employers and many of his team's fans.
|A-Rod isn't sitting pretty among the Yanks fan base.|
There's a reason Gehrig was known as The Iron Horse, and many reasons A-Rod is known by several other nicknames, at least one of which also has the word "horse" in it.
"My mom's had a hard time with all of this the last nine months, watching everything," Rodriguez told USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "My god, I hate to see her go through this. And my daughters are sitting there and watching their dad. I want to make them proud. I want to make my mom proud."
Never mind that whatever Alex Rodriguez's mother has been "going through" over the past nine months, or even nine years, is most likely because of the actions of her son, or that it will be A-Rod's responsibility at some point to explain to his daughters why he found it necessary to break the law in order to compete in a game he was being paid a quarter of a billion dollars to play.
For Yankees fans, the bottom line is this: On July 4, 2013, Alex Rodriguez made it clear that there will be no Independence Day for them, not from him, anyway.
"I know people think I'm nuts," he said. "I know most people wouldn't want the confrontation. Most people would say, 'Get me out of here. Trade me. Do anything.' But I'm the [expletive] crazy man who goes, 'I want to compete. I want to stay in New York. I refuse to quit.'"
In other words, perish those thoughts of early retirement or demanding a trade or being willing to negotiate a payout of the five years remaining on his contract.
Alex Rodriguez sounds as if he's determined to remain a Yankee until the bitter end.
That much, you had to expect. A truly "[expletive] crazy man" would walk away, leaving more than $100 million on the table because fans in Yankee Stadium are likely to do to him this year what fans all over the nation have been doing to him for years: booing.
The objectionable part is that A-Rod is trying to portray himself as fighting the good fight, a noble man attempting to triumph over an army of haters.
That is hardly the case.
Just about every bit of the imagined "adversity" Alex Rodriguez thinks he is confronting is of his own making.
You can't blame him for signing the $252 million deal Tom Hicks gave him in 2001, but he is the one who orchestrated his escape from Arlington to the Bronx, where the fans are a lot more demanding and a lot less forgiving. He is the one who decided that to live up to that first deal, he needed some chemical help.
He is the one who chose to live a high-profile lifestyle, and then complained about all the media attention it draws, sort of like the kid who kills his own parents and then begs for leniency on the grounds he is an orphan.
He is the one who chose to play in high-stake, possibly illegal, poker games -- and then to continue playing in them after MLB and the Yankees ordered him not to.
He is the one who chose to put part of the blame for his steroid abuse on his cousin Yuri Sucart -- and then to continue to employ him as a go-fer after the Yankees ordered him not to.
He is the one who chose to visit Dr. Anthony Galea, under investigation for allegedly providing PEDs to athletes, without informing the Yankees first.
He is the one who chose to have his hip surgeon, Dr. Bryan Kelly, speak to a reporter and lay out a preemptive denial that his hip problems were caused by steroid abuse after his team had ordered the doctor to keep all information about A-Rod's medical condition confidential.
He is the one who chose to give an interview to a national magazine ripping Derek Jeter. He is the one who chose to allow himself to be photographed kissing himself in a mirror.
He is the one who, while in the midst of a horrendous October slump in the middle of a series his team was about to get swept out of, chose to proposition a woman in the field-level seats at Yankee Stadium, in full view of teammates, fans and team officials.
And, if MLB investigators and journalists from ESPN, the Miami New Times and other reputable media outlets are to be believed, he is the one who chose to patronize a Miami-based "anti-aging clinic" run by a bogus doctor who had a full slate of PEDs on his menu.
None of these things, with the exception of the drug allegations, is a capital offense in itself. But taken together, they paint a picture of a man living a life of singular privilege, without boundaries or respect for any authority other than his own.
Again, not a crime in itself. But to live that life of privilege and wealth and try to portray it as the equivalent of working on a chain gang? That is an insult and an affront.
Certainly, it's not easy on certain levels to be a professional athlete. There is always pressure to perform and rarely very much security for any but the upper-echelon. But for more than 15 years now, Alex Rodriguez has lived in that upper-echelon and enjoyed its incredible perks.
Now, he tries to make you believe that his life is no different from that of a Roman gladiator who has just been given the thumbs-down by the bloodthirsty Colosseum crowd. He portrays it as the fight of his life.
On this day 74 years ago, Lou Gehrig never knew the joy of having children, the security of earning even $100,000 in a year or the satisfaction of seeing 40 candles on his birthday, and called himself lucky.
Alex Rodriguez, with the kind of life kings can only dream about, sees himself as victimized.
If he really wants to know why more people aren't on his side, the answer is right there, etched in stone in his own words, thoughts and deeds.