Meet the new king … How will success affect A-Rod now and forever?

 Top of the World
After the Yankees won the World Series on Wednesday night, Alex Rodriguez spent some time gleefully saying that he was now “just one of the guys.” That he had earned his pinstripes, so to speak.

This, to me, is wishful thinking on A-Rod’s part. His salary, his very public personal life, his… interesting… personality – none of these dictates someone who will simply blend in.

So if he’s not that, what exactly has he become?

Rodriguez received perhaps the biggest image makeover during the Yankees’ jaunt to the trophy, as he went from the depths of a steroid scandal and horrible divorce – to becoming a champion and dating American darling Kate Hudson in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

(A-Rod was dating someone people tend to like, who was not Madonna and/or a Canadian call girl; K-Hud got a star-power boost that propelled her from the nether regions of Star Magazine’s middle pages to Page 6.)

And make no mistake, Rodriguez wasn’t just carried to the title by his super-talented brethren. With a dominant postseason at times, replete with more clutch hits than one can count off the top of his head, he regained his lofty perch as a candidate to be considered among baseball’s very best players, right next to Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer. Rodriguez once again must be feared by pitchers the way Pujols is now and the way Barry Bonds has been in the past.

And by virtue of his performance – which I attribute in no small part to Mark Teixeira’s calming influence – Rodriguez has finally erased the only blemishes on what has been a tremendous on-field resume. He performed well on big stages, and he is now a champion for the first time.

What A-Rod doesn’t realize, I fear, is that he will always be a polarizing figure for the fans and media, and even his own teammates.

The most awkward hug since Belichick and Mangini And Rodriguez’s compatriots still most likely look at him with disdain, on the whole. Teixeira and Jeter are professionals, and have put the disparaging comments A-Rod has made about them in the past, at least for the purposes of playing high-level baseball. But I bet they have long memories. And aside from a couple of players with whom Rodriguez shares a background, I don’t think people stay very close to him. His salary alone dictates that he be set apart.

When you’re as naturally talented as A-Rod is, when you play for the most high-profile team, when you’ve signed the two biggest contracts in baseball history – you never just blend in. People will simply continue to expect more and more from him, and how much more can he provide on the wrong side of 30, compared to what he already has done?

By that same token, is Rodriguez now considered to be a Hall of Famer? He is known to have been using performance-enhancing drugs during at least a three-year period that he admits to. People rarely talked about this as the season wore on, but it’s still there, and will almost certainly be a conversation topic when he first appears on a ballot in 15 years or so.

Mark McGwire will never be a Hall of Famer. I don’t think Bonds will either. Will Rodriguez get to the end of the road and find that he’s in the same boat with those two?

I’m torn on this issue. It’s rare to see someone put their issues in the past so expediently. Palmeiro never got past it, and neither did Sosa. McGwire just got hired as hitting coach for the Cardinals, but the main thing people wondered was whether he’d have to finally answer as to the moments of his past that he has refused to speak about.

Rodriguez was able to hide the events of Spring Training behind a stirring and dominant Yankees team, and behind a wall of home runs and RBIs. But when all is said and done, his entire oeuvre will have to come into question. If it’s a factor for McGwire, you have to think it’s a factor here.

Add to that the likability factor – I don’t believe people really like A-Rod as a person, viewing him as a phony, though he’s certainly liked for his feats on the field – and whether he’s destined for Cooperstown even after he finishes shattering every record in the book is no doubt in question.

We’ll deal with this in about 15 years, though whatever happens with Bonds will likely set a precedent of sorts here.

Birds of a feather?

To stay in the now, New York is a very “What have you done for me lately?” city. You’re truly only as good as your last performance. Rodriguez was driven to put his past, well, in the past – and he’d better stay that way.

For now, Rodriguez has conquered some serious demons. Nothing makes you look better than being a winner, and for the first time in his career, he truly is one. He has a World Series championship – that he in large part was responsible for – and nobody can ever take that away from him.

But heavy is the head that wears the crown. Even harder than getting to the top is staying there. That’s something A-Rod must keep in mind.

Because when the champagne dries, when the confetti is swept away, when the Sinatra dies down, I wonder if Rodriguez will find that happiness can tend to be fleeting, and that all that shimmers is sure to fade.


One Comment

  1. The sun set on A-Rod’s troubles for what, a month? I have a feeling that same sun will rise again soon, and A-Rod will be bathing under it. Preferably on a rock in Central Park, and shirtless.

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