What does this guy have left, honestly? He is quite possibly the most reviled baseball player, maybe even athlete, to have never done anything actually revolting, like murder or beat his wife into a pulp. The worst actual thing you could say about Alex Rodriguez is that he is a borderline slum lord and, to be fair, that is pretty shitty. But that's not why anyone—everyone—hates him. Everyone hates him because he used PEDs and lied about it. If that's your thing, that's cool I guess. You're allowed to feel your feelings, get viscerally angry, and hold a grudge against a man who is closer to a fictional character than any sort of real person with an impact on your life. Sports have an irrational importance to all of us and we all are borderline insane about it.
But Alex Rodriguez deserves that baseball.
A-Rod has been in full-on damage control since before spring training even started. He has been the perfect teammate, gracious to the media, and most surprisingly, an actual factor in the New York Yankees offense. The funny thing is, he hasn't changed a thing about himself. He's doing the same thing he's always done since he's been in New York; he's projecting a life and personality he feels like people expect from him. He regurgitates talking points fans (and perhaps more importantly, sports writers) want to hear, just like he always has. He is respectful of teammates, just like he always was, and he does it all, as ever, with a smile on his face.
This has always been A-Rod's story, the only thing that has changed now is that he's older and not as prodigiously great as he used to be. Major League Baseball has railroaded him to make a point about performance enhancing drugs. It has sacrificed him at the altar of Integrity, Or Whatever. And yet, he is still smiling.
It seems like most folks have noticed this and have developed feelings vaguely resembling sympathy for A-Rod. Which is to say, less people overtly hate him. It doesn't hurt that A-Rod is playing well and that the Yankees are not a blazing dumpster, making his rapid-fire tour through a checklist of historic milestones palatable. But there's still that very weird, and very A-Rod part of it all because it's not a true redemption. Alex Rodriguez will never be loved. For as long as he is still playing at a respectable level, he will merely be tolerated. Which is how we have discussions about whether Zack Hample should give A-Rod his ball back.
Maybe it was a perfect storm—of course that fucking guy had to catch A-Rod's significant milestone home run—but if it was any other player, you know that ball would be back in his possession. And A-Rod knew it:
"Where's Jeet's guy? That's the guy I needed," Rodriguez said after the game. "I wasn't so lucky."
Of course this is a stupid discussion, millionaire baseball player Alex Rodriguez does not need a baseball MLB hilariously and hypocritically had specially marked, and sports overly sentimentalize accomplishments and anything associated with those accomplishments for sappy and financial reasons, anyway. So it's not a major loss; he hit the thing and he's got his memories. But he'll have to hold onto those dearly.
One day after he hit the home run, the Yankees held their annual Old Timer's Day. Any player who has ever played on the team, from Hall of Famers, to guys with names like Bubba Crosby, get invited. I cannot imagine a world where Alex Rodriguez plays in an Old Timer's Day game. I cannot imagine a world where Alex Rodriguez is ever speaking before a crowd at Cooperstown. I can't even really imagine A-Rod being involved in some random All-Star Game 20 years from now.
He's our generation's Pete Rose and it probably kills him to know once he's done playing, he's truly done with baseball. The end of a playing career is always difficult to reckon for athletes, but many hold on, many remain a part of it. Managing, front office opportunities, whatever Reggie Jackson does for the Yankees. If you want to stay around the game, you usually can. It's hard to imagine that will be the case for A-Rod.
He is likely going to retire and go home with nothing more than the money everyone always hated him for. The greatest player many of us will have ever seen play will be hated, or merely reduced to a memory people are forced to put up with.
Even sadder than the greatest player many of us have ever seen play being hated by a supermajority of the people he played in front of is the prospect of the greatest player many of us have ever seen being reduced to something people just put up with. He may no longer be met with widespread enmity, but he will never be embraced. He will be, at best, a walking shoulder shrug emoji. Let him have a ball for crying out loud.