Baseball

There’s (Still) Something About Alex Rodriguez

The Chicago White Sox have been an average team all year long. Coming in to August 5th, the toothless Sox had lost 10 games in a row, hampered by poor bats all season. Yet, the game this night was something a little different. Fresh from the announcement that Major League Baseball had suspended Alex Rodriguez for their part in the Biogenesis scandal, there was a buzz floating through the air at US Cellular Field. This buzz was, of course, because the much maligned Rodriguez would be making his return to the Yankee lineup, batting cleanup before his suspension kicks in on the 8th.

It’s been a bizarre season for Rodriguez, from his war of words with Yankees GM Brian Cashman to his continued drug scandal saga, it seems that everything we’ve talked about in regards to A-Rod has been about everything except for his baseball. But there’s just something about Alex Rodriguez isn’t there? After the announcement was made that A-Rod would indeed start the game at third, several thousand additional tickets were sold to US Cellular Field for the game, giving the Sox one of the best crowds they’ve seen all season long.

When the Yankees travel, their fans come to opposing ballparks in numbers, so it would be ill conceived to think that the additional thousands of attendees were all Yankee fans. Sure, probably a whole lot of White Sox fans looking for any kind of excitement at their ballpark, but probably a lot of people there to see the Alex Rodriguez trainwreck express.

At the preceding press conference, Rodriguez was still defiant, expressing disappointment in Major League Baseball’s decision to suspend him and the others involved with Biogenesis. He’s called his ordeal a “nightmare” and will appeal the verdict.

“What we’ve always fought for is the process and I think we have that and I think at some point we’ll sit in front of an arbiter and we’ll give our case. That’s as much as I feel comfortable saying right now.” – Alex Rodriguez

So what now Alex?

This series in Chicago could very well be the last time we ever see Alex Rodriguez play professional baseball in the Majors. His suspension, from August 8, running through the entirety of the 2014 season, will see Rodriguez around 40 years old when it’s all said and done, and with his declining skills, there’s probably little left in the exhausted tank. What a sad end to a career we all thought would be the shining beacon of hope crushing the giant melon sized asterisk that comes affixed to Barry Bonds’ career.

Rodriguez went 1-4 in the game, and the Yankees were crushed 8-1. The White Sox put an end to their terrible losing streak and not surprisingly, Rodriguez was not a major factor in the sporting aspect of today’s events. By the time the chorus of boos reigned in for his first at bat in the top of the second, Andy Pettite had already stunk up the mound and the Yankees found themselves down 3 runs.

Yet, here we are, all of us, talking about Alex Rodriguez and the end of his career. Still in the limelight and still drawing a crowd wherever he goes. It’s easy to forget that there were 12 other players suspended, but like with most of career, he was always much more to everyone that just hitting baseballs. Even as a shell of his former self, we can’t help but be transfixed by his traveling circus. There’s just something about Alex Rodriguez, still.

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Alex Rodriguez’s pre-game press conference:

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Baseball

The Fall of Ryan Braun

I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary again, where in the supplementary Tenth Inning, a great deal of time is dedicated to Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s home run chase of 1998. It was swing and after beautiful swing, every crack of the bat, and the long soaring flight of all the balls as they sailed out into the crowd, into the decks, and into oblivion, one after another. It was such a beautiful time in baseball. Reeling after the crippling strike of 1994, the home run chase proved to be the perfect elixir to the greed doldrums, and both Sosa and McGwire became icons of the sport for not only enthralling a nation mired in a Presidential scandal, but one that was looking for solace in its old pastime.

Innocence is beautiful” says Pedro Martinez as he flashes a smile. There is a glint in his eye as he talks about his countryman Sosa, yet he knows that time and history will not look back on Sosa’s accomplishments with the kind of love and fervour America and the world showed him and McGwire as they chased, and ultimately, smashed Roger Maris’ record. But for that moment, for that year, as the world looked in on every at-bat, it was one of the greatest races in sports.

“Innocence is beautiful” -Pedro Martinez, talking about 1998 in the documentary ‘Baseball’.

Innocence however, hasn’t been beautiful for Ryan Braun. Now suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season for violating the MLB’s “Basic Agreement and Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program”, the much promised and talented Milwaukee Brewers star will live for the rest of his career under the same cloudy murk McGwire and Sosa live under thanks to this disgraceful Biogenesis debacle. His long stubborn stance proclaiming innocence looks ridiculous in hindsight, and his vehement protest against the process in which the 2012 drug test progressed is both awkward and rather ridiculous (even dragging Packers QB Aaron Rodgers into the mess as he stood up for his friend). It seethed of arrogance, and now with hat in hand, much of his words are neither entirely apologetic and/or filled with accountability. It’s a new kind of “what you do when you get caught”.

Perhaps this wasn’t too unexpected, but there was still a part of me, as a Brewers fan and as a fan of the game of baseball, that players in this day and age would have learned some, any, lessons. Or at the very least, have been collectively savvy enough to avoid the potential pitfalls of strip mall prescriptions. Maybe we want our stars to have learned their lessons, but in truth, when we all put so much on the success of these stars, it’s not hard to see the pressures of expectations and promise from such a young age.

Ryan Braun will probably never be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Brewers have to accept the fact that the face of the franchise, our superstar, our beloved hero, is much less than we all hoped he would be. For this season, it won’t be too much of a loss. The Brewers are mired in mediocrity and have been without Braun for long stretches of the season, so continued reliance on talented youngsters like Jean Segura will be nothing new. There’s a chance for the likes of Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl to make an impact, while consistency from veteran players like Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez will continue to make a difference. But next year and the years ahead? We’ll have to wait and see Braun’s return to Miller Park and whether hometown fans will welcome him back with open arms (no doubt in opposing parks however, he was already hearing the chorus of boos before this suspension).

One of my Brewers shirts has Braun’s name emblazoned on the back. I’ll still wear the shirt because I still love the team, and a part of me wants to ignore the consequences of his actions because there’s a belief that the club, the franchise, will always be bigger than any player. But in baseball, that isn’t always the case. And because as a fan, he’s your guy, on your team. Innocence is beautiful and the support for your team is blind.

Buster Olney’s words on Braun are perhaps the most painful. For baseball fans and for fans of what we perceive to be heroes and ambassadors of the game;

“Their Cal Ripken is not Cal.”

One of the greatest falls of recent times.

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