I was asked recently what plans we had at SB Nation New York to commemorate Alex Rodriguez's imminent entry into baseball's exclusive 600-home run club.
Simple question. The answer, though, is anything but simple. Rodriguez is a complicated man, always has been throughout his career. How to feel about him as he nears becoming the seventh player in history to reach 600 home runs -- he enters play Tuesday night vs. Anaheim with 598 -- is also, of course, complicated.
Why would it be anything else?
Should we unabashedly celebrate him? Rodriguez, after all, is one of the most supremely gifted players to ever don a baseball uniform. It seems like just a blink of an eye ago A-Rod was hitting his 500th home run. Now, he sits on the verge of 600 and with his 35th birthday still days away the possibility for many more home runs -- maybe even record-shattering ones -- is still there. He has won three MVP awards
Should we excoriate him and turn our backs to his accomplishments because he is a 'cheater'? Rodriguez, as we know, has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs during at least part of his career. Do we lump A-Rod in with Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader, whose accomplishments are scorned or simply ignored because of the substantial body of evidence that his numbers were enhanced?
Do we hate him because he is a New York Yankee? Fans around much of baseball do, simply because he gave up a shot at being the best shortstop of all time, took George Steinbrenner's money and ran to join Derek Jeter and the already hugely successful Yankees. If New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets fans -- not to mention Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan -- can bash LeBron James for giving up his throne as The King to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami in search for rings, can we not understand why fans outside of New York would feel that way. Is there a part even of Yankees fans who still feel Rodriguez never should have donned the pinstripes.
Do Yankee fans love him, for the simple reason that he is a Yankee? That in itself is a complicated question within this whole series of related complicated questions. He has a World Series ring with the Yankees. He has two MVP trophies as a Yankee. He has made the All-Star team every season he has been a Yankee. Yet, there are still all the sideshows he has put the Yankees, and their fans, through. The rift with Jeter going back to before they were teammates. The tension with Joe Torre. The playoff failures prior to 2009. Opting out of his contract only to wind up with an even richer one courtesy of Hank Steinbrenner.
Should we, in some odd way, feel sorry for Rodriguez? All, it seems, that A-Rod has ever wanted is to be loved, to be appreciated, to be considered the best. Currently, seems more at peace, outwardly, than he has ever been during his time in New York. Yet, can you say for sure that you 'like' him? That you don't feel that in at least some way all the sideshows, and the PED revelations, have made Rodriguez' career something less than what he -- and we -- hoped it would be?
Do the Yankees love having Rodriguez, or will they feel hamstrung by his 10-year contract (thru 2017) as he gets older? Brian Cashman or Hal Steinbrenner would never answer that question honestly, that is for sure. You can also be sure, though, that the Yankees know they won't get the marketing boost they hoped for from the $30 million in potential milestone home run bonuses he could collect (beginning with the 600th home run and ending with passing Bonds).
Each of these questions is complicated, and none of them carries an answer that is clear-cut. Thus, how is it truly possible to know what to feel or how to react as Rodriguez approaches this latest milestone?
It isn't. At least for me.