Keith Strudler: Play It Again, Alex
Sometimes when my oldest son gets in trouble, which is more often that I’d prefer, part of his punishment is that he has to write, not just verbalize, but write an apology. This must come as a handwritten script, not something he types on his junior tablet. The idea is that writing a note forces him to really think about what he did wrong and takes the sarcastic edge off his justification. It also takes him a bit more time, which is punishment in itself. Now I’m often underwhelmed by the final product, but at very least, I figure my kid had to think about what he did wrong, even if he’s not truly sorry.
Such appears the case for the New York Yankees prodigal son Alex Rodriguez. Yesterday, the suspended infielder offered the public a handwritten apology where he, in his words, took “full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season.” In his note, he also reminded the public that he served the longest suspension for PED use in the history of Major League Baseball and is ready to put that behind him and play some ball, for the Yankees of course. And he thanked the team for offering Yankee Stadium as a forum to offer his apology in the form of a press conference, but opted instead for this heartfelt, handwritten explanation.
With that, it’s clear that A-Rod has every intention of returning to baseball for the 2015 season, something the Yankees had surely hoped wouldn't happen. Of course, why wouldn't you return for over $20 million a year over the next three years, a sum he'll get unless he walks away from the game -- or gets suspended again, of course. It's not clear how effective he'll be in the remaining years of service, or what position he'll play.
This handwritten note has not largely been well received by a cynical public. While Rodriguez likely hoped his penmanship would elicit sympathy and empathy, it seems to have done just the opposite. Public perception is that A-Rod is perhaps the most manipulative, controlling, disingenuous athlete of all time. So for most sports fans, the letter, and certainly the publication method, was simply the calculation of a serial liar.
Part of this strategy, as it is, is to avoid the obvious hurricane that would be an A-Rod press conference, whether held in the hallowed halls of Yankee Stadium or otherwise. From his, and the perspective of his multiple advisors, what A-Rod needed was an easy win, not a battlefront. If you think the press was hungry before the suspension, time has only made their stomach grow hungrier -- and certainly not fonder. A-Rod's return is like a pinata at 5-year-old's birthday party. Everyone's is desperate to take the first swing.
The Yankees have been clear by their demeanor, if not their voice, that they'd happily stay clear of this mess. It's certainly not a loving homecoming, if one at all. It's hard to know what bothers them more -- A-Rod's actions or his cost. But it's fairly obvious they'd much rather A-Rod's next note be his resignation letter, handwritten or not.
But a couple of interesting thoughts come from this note, and the respective distain thereof. First, it's once again painfully obvious Alex Rodriguez, more than anything else, desperately wants -- no, needs to be loved. Despite all the wins, all the records, all the money, what he really cares about most is making sure the public thinks he's a nice guy. That's a stark contrast from other disgraced athletes -- say Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong -- who are just as surly in their aftermath as they were in the prologue.
But second, as angry as people seem to be right now, it will be interesting to see how that might change if Rodriguez's return is more triumphant than currently anticipated. Yankee fans hate him now, but what if he hits .400 in the postseason? The A-Rod distain has always been routed in his perceived performance failure at key moments -- or choking, if you will. The PED problem, at least to some extent, is a red herring. So that note, while ridiculous, is far more grounded in performance than performance enhancing drugs. I'll be interested to see how much A-Rod's handwriting improves with his play. I'd guess a lot. And that, you can write down.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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