My best guess is that this happened in May 2002, but the thing is it could have been one of a half-dozen other days. I clearly remember it was the day when Alex Rodriguez hit two home runs against the Kansas City Royals. But when I went back into the archives to find that particular game, I saw that Rodriguez actually hit two home runs against the Royals SEVEN times. That doesn’t include the time he hit three home runs against the Royals.
Fun (or not so fun) fact: Alex Rodriguez had 60 multi-homer games in his career. SIXTY. That’s more than Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder COMBINED. It’s more than Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente COMBINED. It’s a lot.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure this game happened in May 2002 because, as I scramble for details in my mind, I think Kansas City had just hired Tony Pena to be it’s manager.
Ah, Tony Pena: one of my all-time favorites. You know, the day he took the job he told the Kansas City players: “I’m the new DJ. I play the music. You are to dance. If you don’t know how to dance, get off the dance floor.” No, nobody knew what the heck he was talking about, but it was inspiring all the same.
A few days after he started, the Royals went down to Texas to play in a weekend series against the Rangers -- who were lousy -- but A-Rod was their shortstop. Friday night, the Royals’ starter was Jeff Suppan, and in the first inning Rodriguez launched a long home run -- one of those high fly balls that sail deep into the stands.
Then, in the fifth inning, Rodriguez came up again against Suppan and he hit another home run. If I have my date right, this is the homer I think about all the time. Rodriguez was kind of fooled by the pitch, did not get a good cut at the ball and he appeared to pop it up.
Only, the ball would not come down.
The outfielder -- Carlos Beltran, I think -- coasted back for the ball like he was going to make an easy catch. Then he kept going, but still in an unhurried way, as if the ball was going to come down on the warning track. Beltran kept going, now getting ready to time his jump, climb the wall and try to steal the home run. However, the ball probably went 25 feet over Beltran’s glove and landed in about the 33rd row.
It remains one of the most amazing things I have ever seen on a baseball diamond. I think about it all the time -- the easy swing, the way the ball repelled off that bat, the way that baseball kept going like it was one of those remote control helicopters. Yes, of course, I know that Alex Rodriguez was cheating. Yes, I know that his strength was, literally and figuratively, unnatural. Yes, I can -- everyone can -- draw a pretty simple timeline from that moment when A-Rod was a superhero to the present, where Alex Rodriguez is disgraced, despised and doomed.
2003: Alex Rodriguez hits 47 homers, wins a Gold Glove at shortstop and takes MVP award for last-place Texas Rangers. He is, at this moment, making a clear case for himself as one of the 10 best players in baseball history.
2004: A-Rod willingly takes a large pay cut so he can be traded to the Boston Red Sox. The Players Association scotches the deal. Instead, A-Rod is traded to Yankees. He moves to third base in deference to Derek Jeter.
2005: A-Rod hits .321 with league-leading 48 homers and 124 runs to win MVP for the Yankees. He becomes the Yankees first MVP in two decades. But he hits .133 in playoffs as Yankees are beaten by the Los Angeles Angels in five and he is booed.
2006: A-Rod hits 35 homers, makes All-Star Team, and hits .071 in playoffs as Yankees lose to Detroit. He develops a reputation -- fair or unfair -- as a postseason choker. He is booed.
2007: He wins his third MVP Award in five years with 54 home runs. He also goes on 60 Minutes to say that he never used steroids or any other performance-enhancing drug because, “I’ve never felt overmatched on the baseball field. I’ve always been a very strong, dominant position.”
At the end of the year, Rodriguez opts out of the richest contract in baseball history to go for an even richer one -- an announcement made right in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series between Boston and Colorado. Eventually, he signs a 10-year, $275 million deal making nobody on earth happy, except himself and his agent.
2009: Sports Illustrated reports that Rodriguez tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. Two days later, Rodriguez admits that he used steroids while in Texas because, essentially, he felt overmatched on the baseball field. But he’s quick to say he no longer feels that way and did not use when he was with the Yankees.
The Yankees win the World Series for the first time in almost a decade, and A-Rod hits .365 with six home runs in the postseason.
2010: A-Rod hits .190 in the playoffs. He is booed.
2011: A-Rod hits .111 in the playoffs. He is booed.
2012: A 36-year-old and obviously-injured Alex Rodriguez hits .120 in the postseason and is pinch-hit for twice and finally benched. Yes, of course, he is booed.
2013: The Biogenesis stuff. The injury stuff. The squabbling. At last check, it is being reported that Major League Baseball has evidence Rodriguez not only used PEDs but steered others toward it and tampered with the Biogenesis investigation.
The Yankees, stuck with an insane contract they never should have signed, want Rodriguez out. Major League Baseball, stuck with a player who is even more unpopular than Barry Bonds (at least HOMETOWN FANS like Bonds) want A-Rod out. Fans want him out, of course. Story after story advise him to get out. Baseball is reportedly threatening Rodriguez with a lifetime ban if he doesn’t leave quietly. There are conflicting reports about what Rodriguez will do, though the latest suggest that he will cut a deal to salvage as much of his contract and self-respect as he can. It seems the prudent move if MLB really has as much evidence as they suggest.
After all that, we are left with a shell of the superhero. There never was going to be a happy ending for Alex Rodriguez, but now (and this is true no matter where this goes from here) he is doomed to be discharged from the game as one of baseball’s all-time villains.
On that day in May, just more than a decade ago, Alex Rodriguez was unlimited. He was 26 years old. He was a brilliant defensive shortstop. He could draw “oohs” from the crowd by simply throwing a baseball across the diamond -- that’s how strong his arm was. He could run. He was a .300 hitter. He was seemingly invulnerable -- playing every day.
And he could hit fly balls that just kept going and going and going. He was as thrilling to watch as anyone. We will never know how much of that genius for baseball was his own talent and hard work and how much of it was in the chemicals he injected into his body. The sad part is that most people don’t care to know. They don’t care enough about him to think about it. They just want him to go away.