"Who is Navin Johnson? Navin is a complex personality, as are most of the small-breed modern-day renaissance millionaires." That is, of course, Steve Martin's character speaking about himself in one of the greatest movies of all-time, The Jerk. But we can easily replace the name ‘Navin Johnson' with ‘Alex Rodriguez' and it would be just as true (but we won't go as far as calling Rodriguez a jerk, though). A-Rod is certainly a complex personality, and he is one of the small-breed modern-day millionaires produced by the riches of major league baseball. And if Rodriguez had not ended up a baseball superstar, his drive to succeed may have inspired him to invent something along the lines of the Opti-Grab, the way Johnson did. Or were A-Rod's PEDs his version of the Opti-Grab, causing his downward slide?
There are many faces and facets to Rodriguez, and over the years he's been defined in many ways and put into numerous boxes: He's been defined by the two enormous contracts he's signed, he's been defined by his PED usage, he's been defined by his all-world talent, he's been defined by his postseason failures, he's been defined by his celebrity narcissism and poorly chosen photo ops, he's been defined by his less-than-masculine run-ins with Jason Varitek and the Boston Red Sox, he's been defined by the historic numbers he's produced and he's been defined by his not-quite-authentic personality. Yes, A-Rod is more than a baseball player -- as Pete Townshend once wrote in one of his rock operas, "Schizophrenic? I'm bleeding quadrophenic."
Rodriguez is one of modern sports' biggest lightning rods. Fans love him. Fans hate him. And those are just New York Yankees fans. His talent is unquestioned, it's just everything else that's up for grabs. It's hard to believe that he's already in his ninth season with the Yankees, as he's now more affiliated with that franchise than the Seattle Mariners or Texas Rangers. In his latest gigantic contract, there are numerous clauses built in that give him bonuses for passing milestone home run marks. He's now fifth on the all-time home run list, recently passing Ken Griffey Jr. and with Willie Mays just ahead of him (and he just passed Mays, Eddie Murray and Jimmie Foxx on the RBI list as well, moving up to eighth place).
He also tied Lou Gehrig for most all-time grand slams, hitting his 23rd last month against the Atlanta Braves. And the question regarding this scenario is: Does anybody care? Is anybody rooting for him? What do Yankee fans think of his historic climb up the list of legends? While Barry Bonds was largely met with boos, catcalls and indifference around the country when he topped Hank Aaron's record (though he did have a pocket of die-hard defenders), he had the full support of San Francisco Giants fans. Where does A-Rod stand with his own team's fans? Are they pulling for him? Does anybody even care that he took PEDs back in his Texas days (and only his Texas days, wink-wink, nod-nod)? Does that encourage or discourage anybody from feeling positive or negative about him? A handful of juiced-up players wiped out Yankee Roger Maris' single-season home run record, and one of those PED-enhanced sluggers surpassed Yankee Babe Ruth's career total as well. And now a self-confessed 'roid-enabled Yankee is doing the same. We now know how a former Yankee, Reggie Jackson, feels, when he confessed to Sports Illustrated: "Al's a very good friend, but I think there are real questions about his numbers. As much as I like him, what he admitted about his usage does cloud some of his records."
The Yankee third baseman could have been the perfect baseball player. If he would have just stayed a baseball player. Derek Jeter dates one actress after another and is on TV pitching Fords more than he's on TV playing for the Yankees, but he's still a baseball player first and foremost, with his celebrity status a distant second. Somehow, A-Rod draws more attention than Jeter for his off-the-field escapades, and the attention is usually of the negative variety. He just can't help himself. Whether he's caught sunning himself shirtless in Central Park or posing for pictures while kissing himself in a mirror or being fed popcorn by his actress girlfriend du jour on a JumboTron at the Super Bowl, he puts himself in comically embarrassing situations that become fodder for his critics. Behind the scenes, he attained the nickname A-Fraud by his Yankee teammates, partially in good fun but with a whiff of brutal truth to the moniker. He's tried to rehabilitate his image, by becoming "just one of the guys," but even that is met with a roll of the eyes, as it's more like an episode of Undercover Boss than reality.
In his time with the Yankees, he's won a pair of MVP awards, five times he's had an OPS above .900 (and twice above 1.000), twice has had a WAR over 9.0, seven times driven in 100-plus runs and has had seven seasons of 30 or more home runs. After hitting a postseason low point in 2006, with an OPS of .205 in the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, when he went 1-for-14, he finally had his magical Yankee playoff run in 2009, with OPS's of 1.500, 1.519 and .973 in the three rounds, with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 15 games, as the Yankees won the World Series that year. The last two postseasons, though, he's regressed to the old "unclutch A-Rod," as if the burden lifted off his shoulders in '09 was enough to change the perception about his shortcomings forever, and he never did have that one signature Reggie Jackson-like World Series moment. But how will his days with New York be remembered (though, of course, they're not done yet, and not even close with his contract dragging on into his forties)? Will his regular season success while he was still in his prime, along with October of 2009, be enough to view him in a positive light?
Alex Rodriguez is multidimensional. He's insincere. He's a glamour boy. He's a workaholic. He's a possible Hall of Famer. He's an MVP. He's a cheater and a law-breaker. He's a record-breaker. He's a World Series winner. He's clutch. He's unclutch. He's a good teammate. He's a bad teammate. He's all of that and more, rolled into one enigmatic package.
We know how most baseball fans feel about A-Rod, but how will Yankee fans view him when it's all said and done, though? A bust? Just another steroid-era cheater? A true Yankee and pinstripe legend? Or -- in true Alex Rodriguez fashion -- all of the above?