As the New York Yankees get ready for their home series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, we know something we didn't know before their trip to Boston. We have learned that Alex Rodriguez has support on his team, and it is the kind of support that will fight for him between the white lines.
It is not surprising.
The culture of baseball has changed because of Biogenesis, maybe out of the sheer reality that it had to change. A decade ago, players were mum on the subject of PEDs, but with today's social media behemoth, voices will be heard even if nothing else, by accident.
Now, as a steady stream of anti-PED sentiment pours in from pitchers facing Alex Rodriguez, to teams that claim they were cheated by him over the past decade, we absorb a mountain of strong opinions against his ability to play during his appeal. We even recognize him as everything that is wrong with the PED era in baseball and make him the target of a game of pin the tail on the donkey.
But pin the tail on the donkey is played blindfolded. Guessing at what to blame and who to blame. The best conclusion we can make from the A-Rod saga to date is that it is, at best, convoluted, at worst, a conspiracy of international magnitude. Either way, there is a lot happening that is making sure the tail is pinned on him.
It may be deserved, but when the lights come on, and pitches fly, we found out in Sunday night's game the Yankees are the Yankees and everyone else is just everyone else. No matter who had the best sound bite about A-Rod and PEDs. As Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster exacted vigilante justice on A-Rod, we saw manager Joe Girardi defend Rodriguez in a New York minute, as he would any son on his team. Sure, it may turn out to be a son who has made poor choices, broken the rules, and chronically lied, but nevertheless, he came out strongly to back him. And that may have been an important turning point for Alex Rodriguez, to at least have one place to call home, the Yankees locker room.
We have to remember that even if there are many players in the Yankees locker room who agree with the numerous opponents who have come out against A-Rod on principle, the most righteous Red Sox player will never be more of a friend than the most egregious rule-breaking Yankee to the Yankees. You hit our teammate, even as wrong as my teammate may be, we will fight for him.
And this is not just a Yankees thing, this is baseball. Something mystical happens when you put on that uniform. You are shrouded together, not alone. You are wearing history, you are carrying something you fight for that is bigger than one teammate's poor choices, bigger than any one person. You don't let history walk out the door so that your opponent can teach your teammate a lesson, even if it is a valuable one that you support. Not on game day.
Justice between the white lines is not governed by the same rules by which a tweetable court of public opinion can come out in a fleeting thought or in the vacuum of an interview. It is a justice that has been refined over decades that always will have you defend your teammate at all costs, even in the heart of hostile territory where an opponent speaks the moral truth about one of your teammates. Congratulations, you are right in principle, but we won the game.
When the first pitch is thrown, a new legal system enters into play that does not resemble much of 21st century U.S. law. It is more like Hammurabi's eye for an eye. Even when you can see, and I can't. Dempster did what many people in and out of the game claim they would do if in the position (he denies intent). He is throwing at a guy who has exploited an advantage. Dempster is sending a message that many people say they want to send: That we don't like cheaters, that we don't want cheaters, that we resent playing against someone who has an advantage. I get that, but in the end, Dempster and others have to be careful because it can easily create a sympathetic figure out of A-Rod. Someone who is getting picked on. The home run A-Rod later hit then made him look like a superhero.
Had the Yankees sat on their hands and Girardi sat on the bench and watched when A-Rod got drilled on a 3-0 pitch, it would have been different. But when you see the reaction taken on behalf of someone who you could say has sullied the Yankees name, even called out the Yankees publicly, you have to take pause and realize that the game doesn't really care about the backstory, it just knows that it is your team against mine, and a guy on my team just got hit intentionally, and you must pay.
We can talk later over lunch and agree on A-Rod, but now, it is on.