Matthews: Will the Rehabilitation of Alex Rodriguez Eventually Lead Him to Monument Park?

For Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees, it is no longer Us against Them.

Forgotten are all the insults, the betrayals and yes, the lawsuits that flew hot and heavy a couple of years ago when A-Rod was appealing his 162-game PED suspension by Major League Baseball and the Yankees, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be siding with the commissioner and against a member of their “family.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that they were privately exploring ways to void Rodriguez’ contract while quite publicly seeking not to pay him his contractually-stipulated home run bonuses.

Now, they are all one big happy family again. (Although it should be noted that at no time during A-Rod’s Tuesday press conference at Steinbrenner Field did the words “Randy Levine” come up.)

However,  “us,” ”we,” “Hal and Hank” and of course, “the greatest organization in the world,” were flung around with abandon by Alex Rodriguez in his 14 minutes with the media following his first day as a “special instructor,” the label hung on ex-Yankees in good standing who feel like taking a busman’s holiday in Tampa every spring. The general consensus was that A-Rod and the team with which he had recently been at war were now in a state of peace.

Which left a very real question hanging in the air: Just how much further can the name and reputation of Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez be rehabilitated, both by the league and by the team for which he played most of his 22 big-league seasons? Where does this lovefest ultimately lead?

Is it out of the question to think that at some point, Alex Rodriguez, who was made an example of by Bud Selig in his quest to appear belatedly tough on steroids, will wind up both in Cooperstown and with a plaque in Monument Park? Can the ceremony retiring A-Rod’s No. 13 be all that far off?

I would submit that considering the incredible amount of image touch-up that has been done on A-Rod since his return to the game in 2015, nothing is out of play anymore.

After all, here he was, a mere three years after he was essentially told by the Yankees to stay the hell out of Tampa, on the field, in uniform, instructing a group of young players who the club hopes will form the nucleus of the next Yankees dynasty and perhaps even a new Core Four.

And after his first day was in the books, here was Alex Rodriguez, in the media pavilion that was built specially to accommodate his first post-steroids press conference back in 2009. (Previously, it had been an open-air picnic area but after Rodriguez signed a 10-year contract extension it was converted to a permanent structure in anticipation of many more such media circuses.)

With precious little prodding, he laid out the A-Rod Doctrine: “We want our young players to first be in tremendous physical and mental condition. Then we want them to have a great work ethic. And third, we want them to be maniacal about their routines and to be world master of fundamentals. At the end of the day, if we can instill that in the young players before they get to the Bronx, we’ll be way ahead.”

For a guy who had just finished his first day on a new job, A-Rod was talking as if he were Miller Huggins.

And why not? Since returning in 2015, Rodriguez has been embraced by Selig’s replacement, Rob Manfred, who had prosecuted with Elliott Ness-like zeal MLB’s case against A-Rod in connection with the Biogenesis investigation. He was welcomed back, at first grudgingly and then eagerly, by the team he had sued along with an accusation of medical malpractice by the team doctor, Christopher Ahmad. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman considered him a Yankee in good standing once again, although team president Levine — infamously characterized as “The Devil” by pro-A-Rod protestors outside the hearing room — has been somewhat slow to come around.

He was hired by Fox as a broadcaster and analyst, a role he is uniquely suited for, and finally, despite being humiliated with an unconditional release disguised as a “voluntary retirement,” was extended the ultimate olive branch by Hal Steinbrenner, who hired him as a special instructor, at a mere $21 million for a few days work in 2017.

So all is good in A-Rod’s world, and might, in fact, get even better.

This past year, a baseball committee chose to enshrine Selig, a key enabler of baseball’s steroid era, in the Hall of Fame, and two of the game’s leading PED transgressors, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, saw their vote totals dramatically increase. So the door to Cooperstown is opening not only for them, but presumably for guys like A-Rod, as well.

And three years ago, after a 12-year respite in the peculiarly Yankee tradition of retiring numbers, saw a flurry of new digital retirements, no doubt partially in response to sagging attendance at the new ballpark. In 2013, Mariano Rivera got the treatment, and last August, it was Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. On May 14 it will be Derek Jeter’s turn.

Who’s to say that by next year, the Yankees won’t be doing the same for Alex Rodriguez? After all, his Yankee stats are as good or better than at least a half-dozen already enshrined Yankees and much better than those of Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, who wore pinstripes for all of five seasons. And he does have two MVP awards and a World Series ring earned while playing for the Yankees.

We can argue all day, and probably all season, about whether or not Alex Rodriguez “deserves” the kind of revisionist history that now seems to be in fashion regarding his tumultuous Yankees career. But that would also require us to debate whether any of us gets what he or she truly “deserves,” or if in fact our fortunes are inextricably tied to luck, convenience and whatever happens to be the flavor of the day.

For whatever reason, today’s special flavor at Yankee Stadium seems to be Alex Rodriguez.

And as long as the taste doesn’t turn bitter, there’s no limit to where he might wind up.  Out of the penitentiary and into the Pantheon.




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