By Matthew Ajaj
The New York fans that pack Yankee Stadium must be crazy to pay five dollars for a water bottle, but perhaps even more outrageous is their newfound adoration for the notorious Alex Rodriguez. In fact, A-Rod routinely receives the loudest ovation of any player on the New York roster. It is a stunning contrast from just two years ago, when Yankee fans bombarded their third baseman with heckles and boos each time he emerged from the dugout.
A-Rod is undoubtedly the most polarizing figure in all of baseball. His three MVP awards are shrouded by scandals and his 3,000 hits and 600-plus home runs cannot counteract his off-field antics and liaisons with the ladies. The controversy began in the late 2000s as A-Rod was hit with allegations about his past steroid usage. He flat-out denied the charges, but was hit with more credible reports in 2009 which would eventually cause him to succumb to the truth. In 2013 he was tied to the Biogenesis scandal and cited for using performance-enhancing drugs; he was eventually suspended for the entire 2014 season. A-Rod was allowed to finish the 2013 season, but every game he was met with waves of jeers from fans of every team — including Yankee fans. Declining in production, marred by lingering injuries and losing the loyalty of the Yankee faithful, the organization looked for ways to separate themselves from A-Rod and avoid paying out his massive contract but their efforts were to no avail.
Coming into spring training for 2015, A-Rod was a new man. He arrived at camp early and in excellent shape without any injury to speak of. Thrown into the designated hitter role, A-Rod has defied expectations and is now on-pace for 35 home runs and 91 runs batted in. Two years prior, Yankee Stadium rained with boos with each A-Rod at-bat. Today, the crowd craves his plate appearances and goes into frenzy with each A-Bomb that clears the outfield walls. Following Rodriguez’s 661st home run to pass up Willie Mays on the all-time list, the crowd begged for and received an A-Rod curtain call — a phenomenon that no one believed would happen again.
Many are dumbfounded by the Yankees fans’ sudden change of heart towards their troublesome superstar. Most theorize that this is due to A-Rod’s excellent play this season, which has put the Yankees in position for a playoff run. This explanation is partially true, but fails to capture the true essence of A-Rod’s charm: he is an entertainer.
When Derek Jeter retired last season, the New York Yankees lost their heart and soul. Jeter was the team’s perennial, blemish-free leader who encapsulated the Yankees’ winning ways. Two years removed from playoff contention and left with a dull, aging team, not much was expected from the 2015 Yankees. Enter Alex Rodriguez. In Jeter’s shadow for the past decade, A-Rod was ready to assume the captain’s role.
A-Rod is by no means a positive figurehead. His use of performance-enhancing drugs is deplorable, and his diva attitude off the field in years’ past is inexcusable. But it is vital to remember that A-Rod has been in the league since he was just 18 years old — he has no college experience, no job experience and, consequently, has no experience being a mature adult. All he has ever known is baseball (a children’s game) and as a result, he is still a child — a 40-year-old, homer-hitting child. But a kid’s attitude and passion is exactly what was missing from New York’s recipe to success.
Rodriguez has become a crucial figure in the clubhouse, as his uplifting attitude and electrifying play has reinvigorated the old squad and brought them back to their winning ways of yore. Unlike Jeter, A-Rod is a multi-dimensional character. He lies, he cheats, he is willing to do whatever it takes to be the best. While Jeter’s life was a fairy tale composed of cherry blossoms and unicorns and happy endings, A-Rod’s life plays out like a psycho thriller. A man of fluid morality, A-Rod is a polarizing figure whose past regressions juxtaposed by his newfound nobility and leadership make him all the more compelling of a person. This is why Yankees fan root for A-Rod: he has brought a fresh, empowering vibe that the organization desperately needed.
Alex Rodriguez has stepped in and has become the lifeblood of the organization, giving them their spark and now depending on him down the stretch as the Yankees attempt another title run. Yankees fans do not have to like A-Rod, but they sure do appreciate him.