Commentary

Don't go, Alex Rodriguez

We're entertained by stories that sprout like weeds around Yankees player

Updated: July 1, 2013, 4:58 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

We just can't quit Alex Rodriguez. Nobody can. And lord knows we've all tried.

There's just so much there, every time, that the prospect of him going away forever -- perhaps invoking this rarely seen but much-discussed "disabled-list retirement" scheme -- is enough to make every right-thinking baseball fan shake his head and cover his eyes.

Where would the baseball world go for comic relief? Where would we get our unofficial medical clearances? What would happen to Cousin Yuri?

The latest: Alex says everything is just fine between him and the Yankees, and that he's progressing well and planning to contribute before the season ends. This everything's-cool proclamation seems more than a bit strange, however, considering his general manager went on record telling him to shut the bleep up less than a week ago, after Alex tweeted that a non-Yankees doctor cleared him to play in games.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Elsa/Getty ImagesEven when he's not playing, Alex Rodriguez has provided plenty of fodder for the media.

Rodriguez's words and timing were ham-handed, sure, but what else would you expect from the least self-aware man on the planet?

He has seen the enemy, and it isn't Brian Cashman. Strangely enough, this particular enemy has A-Rod's face with the body of a centaur.

He'll be 38 later this month, and perhaps there will come a time when we take a clear-eyed look at one of the greatest players of a generation. That time isn't now, though, because he remains intent on acting so strangely that any reasonable assessment of his rightful place in the order of things must wait.

He is our first avatar athlete, a not-quite human who is nothing more than the world's best virtually real athlete. There has never been anything spontaneous or joyous about him, no feeling of camaraderie or spirit or anything else we associate with the best attributes of sports. There is just impersonal excellence, an unemotional machinery that spat out homers and RBIs at tremendous rates before his body broke down. Impressive, yes, in the same way a ligament grown from rabbit cells in a laboratory is impressive.

What to make of the guy? Every member of the New York sporting press would have to wear black for a month if the reports of A-Rod's retirement/lifetime suspension/contract voidance came true. He has been so good to them for so long, just by the sheer heft of his oblivious self-absorption, that they couldn't bear to let him drift away without a period of mourning.

Rodriguez and New York is a blissful convergence of human and city, the man with an almost existential inability to read a room and the city dripping with cynicism and bluster and rage. They call him out every single time, and every single time he bounces back to toss more raw meat their way.

On Sunday, in news that is relevant in some way or another, the New York Post reported that Rodriguez signed an anti-drug pledge at a Baltimore high school in 2009. The Post noted that even though Rodriguez hasn't been found guilty of anything, the Biogenesis report suggests that "doubt exists the beleaguered third baseman has honored that pledge."

It's thin stuff, but it's also proof of something or other, perhaps that a segment of the New York press wants A-Rod gone as much as the Yankees do. The drug counselor who orchestrated Rodriguez's visit to the school told the Post, "It's embarrassing not only for us, and for him, but to the whole concept of what we're about." Innocent until proved guilty, of course, but this is A-Rod, and New York, so it's only natural that something minor such as the Constitution would get lost in the paperwork.

Not to defend Rodriguez -- and wouldn't that be a party of one? -- but this what-will-we-tell-the-children routine sidesteps a meaningful distinction: If he even thinks twice about some silly pledge, he probably doesn't consider it broken if he (allegedly) takes something that might help him get back on the field. Sounds strange, but ballplayers have created moral justifications for cheating since cheating was invented, and if you're getting something from a doctor, even if it's back-alleyed through his hanger-on son, you might consider yourself covered.

It's obvious the Yankees would like to rid themselves of Rodriguez and whatever embarrassing acts he might commit before his contract expires. There's $114 million remaining on that deal, but don't spend a second feeling sorry for the Yankees. They gave him that ridiculous contract, which followed a previous ridiculous contract, and have nobody to blame but themselves for whatever happens between now and its painful expiration.

It's not a surprise that he's an albatross at his age, just as it won't be a surprise when Albert Pujols is an albatross for the Angels sooner rather than later. There's an assumption that these huge, retroactively questioned contracts -- Josh Hamilton's and Carl Crawford's and Barry Zito's -- will dissuade teams from making future mistakes. It has never been that way, though, and there were plenty of cautionary contracts before any of those were signed.

This current A-Rod affair, more than anything, seems charmingly retro, different from any other, as if we've been transported back to a simpler time, when the man himself was still relevant and stuff like anti-drug pledges signed at a high school assembly never entered anyone's mind.

At this point, it's almost but not quite sad, one of the greatest players in the game's history reduced to Twitter feuds with his general manager and a team hoping against hope it can hold out long enough to keep from paying him.

Only in A-Rod World could this be possible. The Yankees should take this show on the road, or at least down the street. Broadway would eat it up.

Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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