Reconstructing the Champ

My first reaction to a front page story in yesterday’s New York Times was not flattering.

“Aided by his bat and an astute apology, Alex Rodriguez is ending the baseball season not as a former steroids user but as a home run hero.”

Under the headline, In Yankees Slugger, a Lesson for Redemption in the Steroid Era, (Nov. 3) the initial focus of the story seemed to indicate that Rodriguez’s mea culpa last February concerning past steroid use and his current batting average would grant him a seat at the table of redemption in the eyes of fans.

I was disappointed in the fact that the determining feature in the redemption of any star athlete always seems to rest solely on their athletic ability rather than other factors.  This season, Rodriquez has enjoyed the renewed favor of fans when, during the last game of the regular season, he hit a three-run home run and grand slam in the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays becoming the first player in the American League to bring in seven runs in a single inning.  And his World Series performance against the Philadelphia Phillies has only boosted his stature where he has executed when the team needed it most.

But does this make up for all the years of cheating by way of steroids?  Should his performance on the field be the only criteria by which his “redemption” should be judged?

Near the end of the story, I found A-Rod’s deliverance.

“He followed through on his spring training pledge to work with Don Hooton, an antisteroid activist whose program is aimed at high-school-age athletes,” The Times wrote.

“As part of their agreement, Hooton would not reveal the extent of Rodriguez’s commitment other than to say they had visited several schools. He did recall sitting with Rodriguez at a restaurant in Tampa, Fla., last spring, soon after his public admission, the two of them trying to figure out what his message would be.”

“He kept using the word ‘balanced,’ ” Hooton said. “He said, ‘Don, when I wasn’t using steroids, I always felt more balanced, more whole, than when I did.’ I said, ‘Alex, that’s your message right there.’ Here we are, less than a year later, he’s back to hero status. It’s not all that complicated,” Hooton said.

While the road to restoring his reputation may not be complicated, it will take a continued commitment and a lot of hard work.  And at the end of the day, that’s the performance he should be judged by.

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