Sympathy for the Devil

Demon A-Rod

As we all know, Alex Rodriguez is the Antichrist. This is obvious from the many indicators, including:

1. his name – A-lex Rodrigue-Z – a name that begins with the first letter of the alphabet and ends with the last, a mockery of the reference to Jesus in the Book of Revelations, wherein Jesus describes himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last;

2. his middle name, Emmanuel, another title assigned to Jesus, meaning “God with us,” reflecting Satan’s boast that he, the Evil One, is really God;

3. his conspicuously pointy ears; and

4. his team, the New York Yankees – the Evil Empire.

What? You say he isn’t the Antichrist?

You could’ve fooled me, given the level of invective against him that I’m seeing in the sports press, among baseball bloggers, and on fan message boards.

Kidding aside, I don’t like Alex or the Yankees. I’ve always had a soft spot (I’d say it’s in my heart, while others say it’s in my head) for underdogs. Thus, my teams are the hapless Mets and Mariners. I could be a Yankee fan, since I live in Manhattan; but it’s just against my nature, so I root for the losers across the river.

Then why am I writing a blog post with this title?

Because it’s also against my nature to join a “necktie party”; i.e., a lynch mob. And, let’s be honest, folks – there’s a virtual lynch mob mentality swirling about Mr. Rodriguez these days. And it’s not that this state of affairs offends my delicate conscience so much as it offends my sense of balance. In my not-particularly-humble opinion, the perfect storm of recrimination against Alex Rodriguez is in need – I’d say a glaring need – of some perspective. A-Rod’s sins, such as they might be, need to be seen for what they are and within the context in which they’ve allegedly occurred. And, yes, I’m going to continue to use the standard legalese qualifiers like “allegedly,” because the man – like it or not – is an American citizen contesting the charges against him. I therefore intend to accord him a presumption of innocence – the public’s manifest contempt for that presumption notwithstanding. He’s guilty of those things to which he’s already admitted; but I’ll wait to hear his side of the Biogenesis case (not that I don’t readily accept the self-serving testimony of a drug dealer like Anthony Bosch).

The first thing I want to point to is a number: $439,416,252.

That’s the amount of money A-Rod has earned so far, plus the amount the Yankees still owe him under the terms of his present contract.

Coincidentally, the Powerball jackpot currently being offered by the New York State Lottery is $400 million. That’s $39.4 million less than A-Rod will have banked in his career, if the balance of his present contract is ultimately paid out.

So I ask you to ask yourself, with as much honesty as you can muster, some pertinent questions.

Suppose somebody came to you with the only winning ticket to the current Powerball lottery. Suppose further that this person offered to give you this ticket worth four hundred million dollars (before taxes) if you’d accept a couple of requirements.

First, you’d have to take some drugs known to have deleterious effects on human health. He would assure you that the effects wouldn’t be devastating, although, at the same time, he would confess that they have been devastating in some past cases, even issuing in the early deaths of some users. Second, he would require you to go before the press and lie about your use of these drugs, claiming you’d never taken them in your life.

And that’s it. That’s all you’d have to do to obtain this advantage over all the millions of other people playing the Powerball lottery and to claim this mind-boggling fortune of four hundred million dollars.

Would you do it? Would you be tempted to do it? What rationales might you offer for accepting his conditions, thereby jeopardizing your health and making yourself a public liar?

With that kind of money, you’d not only be set for life, but so would your own family (your anticipated family, if you happen not to be married yet), including your wife and kids, and your children’s children, probably down through several generations if they used the money wisely; not to mention your parents, and perhaps several other beloved relatives in need. And you could make lots of charitable donations with that kind of windfall (in fact, your accountant might insist). All of those benefits might be yours…and all you’d have to do is become a drug user and a public liar.

Now, some baseball fans might immediately protest: “A-Rod did much worse things than that! He sullied the great game of baseball and the sacred record books of the game!”

To which I’d reply: Tamp it down, bro.

First, even if you happen to be a religious fanatic about this game, it’s not a religion. It’s a sport and a highly lucrative business. Second, the sacred record books are filled with the accomplishments of cheaters, from the spike-sharpening, bigoted bully from Georgia to the king of the mudball, Whitey Ford. The sacred game of baseball likes to wrap itself in the flag these days and intone sentimental anthems calculated to promote the notion of its moral purity, but it has often had more in common with a casino or a bordello than with a church. So spare me the pious baloney.

Besides my disposition to despise the impulse to lynch, I also tend to look askance at massive demonstrations of self-righteous indignation. Humans tend to savor opportunities to look down on their fellows when those fellows screw up. The easiest way to raise oneself closer to Heaven is to stand on the prostrate form of someone who’s fallen on his face. Self-righteous indignation is so gratifying because you can feel better about yourself without having to do a damned thing except look down on somebody else. It’s easy, like those pills hawked on infomercials that’ll turn you into a ripped stud while you sit on the couch and channel surf. If you’re feeling uncommonly holy right now because A-Rod is such a screw-up, hey…maybe a little thank-you note might be in order?

And, lastly, I think the skewed perspective in evidence against A-Rod right now needs to be adjusted by comparison with some other characters whose crimes dwarf the worst of what he’s done.

A-Rod cheated in a game that rewarded him richly (not without – let’s be fair – a lot of hard work on his part). He presumably displaced some other shortstops and third basemen by taking the positions they were cleanly competing to man. He may have extended the amount of time he’s spent on the DL by compromising his body’s natural healing properties, thus handicapping his team. He arguably sent a message to young athletes that drugs are for winners, not losers. He arguably defrauded his employers into awarding him enormous sums of money (I say “arguably” because – call me a cynic – I don’t take for granted that the people who hired him were completely unaware of his cheating). He bollixed up the record books by filling them with historic but dubious accomplishments. And he’s jeopardized the Yankees’ chances of making the postseason by getting caught.

Now let’s look at some other cheaters and liars and compare the scope of their crimes.

A network of scumbags in the financial industry deviously erected a house of cards that crushed the finances of millions of Americans when it collapsed. Nowadays that catastrophic scam is commonly referred to as the housing bubble, because the worthless financial instruments being sold by the con men behind the scam were tied into the mortgage market. A long time ago, people in the financial industry learned they could make money by “hedging”; i.e., betting against financial trends. Properly used, hedges protect an investor from reversals in his other investments. But the aforementioned scumbags took the concept way beyond that. They deliberately falsified the value of financial products they were hawking while betting against them, so they’d make money when the true worthlessness of those products was exposed. The fact is, most of us who were victimized by these swindlers didn’t know what hit us, because we’re not knowledgeable about the convoluted world of sophisticated finance. And they knew that, and they exploited our ignorance.

And what happened to the highest-profile culprits, the biggest players in that scam? They walked away with obscenely large bonuses. Far from being prosecuted, several of them were hired as financial advisors by the White House administrations of both parties. Others continue to hold prestigious posts in universities, posts from which they published deceptive analyses of the worthless financial instruments sold by the hucksters who were paying them behind the scenes. In sum, nobody has done a thing to punish any of the crooks who cost millions of Americans their jobs, their savings, their retirement funds, their homes, their children’s college funds, and – simply stated – their futures, while plunging them into lives of untold misery.

A-Rod is an easy target. He’s easy to detest. The humility gene seems to have been recessive in his generation, and he seems to think he’s smarter than everybody else in the room. I recall how his former teammates on the Rangers made sarcastic comments when he headed for New York. “What will we do without Alex?” they smirked, because they were glad to be rid of his overbearing attitude. They had wearied of his habit of playing coach. “Take your secondary lead!” he was said to have yelled from the dugout at teammates on base. And he seems enamored of the phony world of super-celebrity. If I met Alex, I’d probably find him obnoxious.

But I don’t detest him the way I detest those Masters of the Universe who savaged the financial lives of millions of Americans and walked away rich and unscathed. Nor do I despise him like I despise the corrupt, phony government officials who hired those morally bankrupt scumbags after they navigated their yachts clear of the wreckage they’d wrought.

Friends, fans, and countrymen – I come neither to bury A-Rod nor to praise him. I’m just here to say to you who’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool to join the feeding frenzy – tamp it down, bro. In the great big ocean of American scandals, he’s a small fry.

In baseball, there’s an expression that comes up when one’s team is battering an opponent in a lopsided win: “Save some runs for tomorrow.” I’d just like to suggest that some of you lower your pitchforks and torches and save some of that resentment for people who are far more deserving of your contempt. Nobody’s paying them any mind, and they’re loving it – and they’ve likely done you far more damage than a smug, juiced-up third baseman ever has or ever could. Perspective, amigos – perspective.

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