Alex Rodriguez: America’s Newest Star
The breakout star of the 2016 postseason was not Francisco Lindor, who batted .310/.355/.466 with two home runs, proving that he is a legitimate franchise player.
Nor was it Javier Baez, who posted a .375 batting average in the National League Division Series and flashed his ability as an elite defensive infielder.
Against all odds, the breakout star of the 2016 postseason was Alex Rodriguez, the formerly disgraced third baseman turned television savant for FOX Sports.
This is the same Rodriguez that was forced into an early retirement two months earlier by the New York Yankees, just four home runs shy of 700 for his career- the same Rodriguez was universally hated by fans, opposing players, and even teammates for the majority of his career. The exact same Rodriguez whose career was tarnished by his use of performance enhancing drugs, so much so that his Hall of Fame credibility has since been called into question.
Rodriguez has seemingly done the impossible, performing a complete reverse of his public perception. Once loathed, A-Rod is now appreciated by the baseball community as a valued television personality. So now, we must ponder a mind bending question: how the hell did we get here?
It’s important to start with the fact that Rodriguez’s most damning flaw is his overwhelming desire to be loved. From the time he made his Major League debut at the tender age of 18 years old, Rodriguez has been the most closely examined player in the game. Hailed as a prodigy with once in a generation talent, Rodriguez seemed to be a sure thing.
Which is why is insecurity ate away at him with every move he made.
Rodriguez, so desperate to be a fan favorite, could not help himself from impeding upon his ability to actually become one. He seemingly always made the wrong move and in the process, became Major League Baseball’s number one villain.
From his denial of using PED’s, to his admission of using PED’s, to his passive aggressive quarrels with the beloved Derek Jeter, to his over the top dating life, to kissing that stupid mirror- the list never ends.
For such an incredible talent, it’s amazing that Rodriguez went out in the manner he did last August, quietly and under-celebrated. Aside from Barry Bonds, it’s difficult to find an apt comparison for the way fans dealt with Rodriguez’s playing career. No matter your age, it wasn’t cool to like A-Rod.
But television Rodriguez is different. He’s funny and engaging and relatable and all of the welcoming character traits that he was unable to display during his playing career. This Rodriguez is cool.
On the screen, Rodriguez is able to broadcast his uncanny knowledge for the game. Despite the knacks on A-Rod, it’s a well established fact that he possesses a sixth sense for the ins and outs of baseball strategy.
A legend is often told about Rodriguez’s brilliance, when in 2015 he often accompanied injured pitcher and teammate Andrew Miller in the clubhouse to watch games. Miller tells about how he was in awe of A-Rod’s ability to predict almost every upcoming pitch correctly as if he were playing it himself on a gaming console.
Combine this knowledge with his unfiltered charisma for the game itself, and the cockiness that made Rodriguez a villain has since transformed into unbridled charm.
The other key to A-Rod’s success on television? His co-host, who has also been exiled from baseball: all time hits leader Pete Rose.
Rose and Rodriguez play off each other perfectly. While Rodriguez is always calm and calculated, Rose is not. Rather, Rose is unpolished and unashamed. He spouts his opinions with vigor, as if no one else in the world can be right. He is every bit as controversial as Rodriguez, but together their chemistry is undeniable.
FOX Sports has built the sort of team that builds an identity. Baseball as a whole has long dealt with this issue on a macro level. Basketball’s television presence is led by the Turner Sports team which consists of Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley. Football will soon deal with the task of re-establishing a beloved television crew, but has been held together by Chris Berman and the ESPN gang for years. And now, baseball’s biggest villain is becoming the face of its on-screen charge.
Rodriguez has re-branded in a way that can only be admired. The way that he has transformed himself, and in such a short amount of time, cannot be ignored.
Is this the true A-Rod? Is he being genuine? Do we care?
As we enter the 2017 season, we will be given more opportunities to further develop our feelings on Rodriguez the television personality. We will see him constantly. He will flash a smile, look directly into the camera, and have our full attention. Only this time, we will like it.