Alex Rodriguez — baseball villain, pariah, whipping boy. To that list, add one hell of a studio analyst. Of all the former players assembled by FoxSports1 and TBS to cover the postseason, Rodriguez is perhaps the most knowledgeable, eloquent, and informative (not exactly things you can say about Cal Ripken and Harold Reynolds). Say what you want about Alex Rodriguez the player and all that he has done over the years to earn your hatred, the man knows baseball, and is able to express what he knows in a way that the average baseball fan can understand. Rodriguez has forgotten more about baseball than most of us will ever know, but apparently, that’s not good enough for Christine Brennan of USA Today.
“Congratulations, Fox. What a terrible message this sends to children — if kids actually watched playoff baseball games anymore. Experts say the use of performance-enhancing drugs by kids in high school sports has reached epidemic proportions. Seeing superstars suspended or hauled before Congress can act as a deterrent to these kids. Seeing them propped up on pregame shows as faux stars does not.”
Let’s break down what Brennan has to say about Rodriguez, who has been nothing short of surprisingly spectacular (I’ll admit, I thought he would be an unmitigated disaster) in the studio. The inclusion of Rodriguez on the studio panel does no more to encourage high schoolers to dabble in illegal drugs any more than his presence on the diamond for the entire 2015 season. By this logic, Major League Baseball should have sent a stronger message to Rodriguez and suspended him for life, because, think of the children! If your child or athlete tries steroids in high school because Alex Rodriguez is on television discussing baseball, then you had better take a good, hard look in the mirror. Perhaps the real reason many high schoolers are turning to steroids is not because so many professional athletes have tried the drugs, but because unreasonable pressure and expectations have been heaped upon them by those close to them who expect superstardom.
Brennan goes on to accuse FoxSports of selecting A-Rod (and Pete Rose as well) for their studio panel in an effort to boost ratings. Perhaps, but nothing new. TNT has an NBA studio panel that includes Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal behaving in a ridiculous manner. This is the same reason Shannon Sharpe was able to spew nonsensical analysis on CBS for several years alongside Deion Sanders. Having highly personable, entertaining stars is a prerequisite for competing in the crowded world of sports television. Since Fox has already gotten in bed with Rodriguez, why not trot out Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Rafael Palmeiro for next year’s playoffs, Brennan writes. Speaking in hyperbole is always the correct course of action when trying to make a point.
Alex Rodriguez is a steroid user, a cheater (in the opinion of most), and a liar (again, in the opinion of most). That does not take away from his ability to break down, in depth, what goes into taking an at-bat against David Price, or the evolution of Price since he entered the league as a pitcher who primarily threw one pitch, a fastball. Rodriguez, who never attended college, used the phrase “macro-level” in a sentence on air. Correctly. Simply put, he is not an unintelligent man whose opinion and understanding of baseball should be ignored because he took steroids. While Frank Thomas was more concerned discussing the postgame activities available for the city of Kansas City on a Friday night, Rodriguez was providing careful, measured, and (not unimportant), correct analysis of the upcoming Royals-Blue Jays game.
Rodriguez has done some regrettable things in his career. Given the chance, I’m sure he would undo every single one of the actions that led to him becoming the most hated man in baseball. Despite the ugliness of the past two years, Rodriguez has somehow emerged a more likable (an entire psychology masters thesis could probably be written on Rodriguez, his desire to be liked, and its influence on his decision to use PEDs) figure if that’s possible. He is self-deprecating (“I know what it’s like to be booed a lot.”) and humble while on air. Rodriguez has shown another side of himself this fall, and after seeing this side, it becomes less difficult to envision him managing in the Major Leagues as Buster Olney opined earlier this year.
The past of Alex Rodriguez will always haunt him. There will be no Hall of Fame, even if he somehow hangs around long enough to hit 800 home runs. The past, though, is the past. There will always be baseball in Alex Rodriguez’s future, whether you like it or not. Whether on air or in the dugout, baseball and its fans will benefit from having A-Rod around. The presence of Rodriguez on the air is not a bad thing. If anything, it is a blessing for baseball fans who have been given either uninspired, bland ex-jocks or former athletes behaving badly for on air laughs for years. Rodriguez has been a breath of fresh air this postseason, and frankly, I hope he is back again next year.
There is no reason to hate Alex Rodriguez on air, and he’s not going anywhere. Get used to it, accept it, and move on.