When my local TV news station ran an item on Alex Rodriguez’s marital discord, I knew the story had struck enough chords and brain receptors in the minds of editors and executive producers across the country for the perfect story. Combine the highest-paid baseball player (and the game’s most talented) with a washed up pop star like Madonna (quibble all you want, but she is riding on her 80s output like a greatest hits show), toss in possible Kabbalah crap and rumors of Lenny Kravitz joining the jilted Cynthia Rodriguez in Paris, and these are the things that crack local newscasts and papers across the country, not just in New York, where the Post and the Daily News are the closest thing we have to semi-legit tabloids.
These are the stories that give license to Deadspin’s A.J. Daulerio to create tags of genius such as “Justify My Glove” to encompass the entire scandal (part baseball reference, part Madonna reference, and part Kravitz, as he penned “Justify My Love” for the Material Girl years ago.)
But the question that always pops up with me is: why do we care so much? Michael Jordan’s divorce from wife Juanita did not receive this much play outside of Chicago and he’s worth more than A-Rod could ever hope to be at this point. Obviously, there is the inevitable celebrity factor involved with Madonna, which will get shows like Entertainment Tonight, Extra, and their ilk all over it, but as far as sports fans go, well, what’s the explanation?
I sense that, more than any athlete around right now, we want to see Rodriguez fail at things.
He has been the highest paid player in baseball, an immensely talented man playing what many would consider a kid’s game, for the better part of a decade, yet has not been able to put up numbers in crunch playoff time for the Yankees (not that his teams in Texas ever sniffed playoffs.) His playoff legacy, barring the Yankees winning a World Series before he is done, will be the attempt to slap the ball out of the glove of Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis pitcher Bronson Arroyo on his way down the line in 2004.
He is the supposed home-run king in waiting; having never tested positive for any performance enhancing drugs or had any substantive reports emerge about any use of them, Rodriguez is the one whom everyone assumes will erase the thought of Barry Bonds‘ supposed besmirching of a record that Hank Aaron worked so hard to earn.
Rodriguez is the easy #1 fantasy pick in damn near every baseball league; a good defensive player despite playing out of position in deference to Derek Jeter — whose abilities have clearly slipped with age. (A side note about Jeter: the lifelong bachelor has shacked up with numerous hotties, but those reports never linger; if A-Rod were single in the way Jeter is, he’d probably take just as much shit. The Yankee captain is pure Teflon.)
And we hate him for that, because in every public aspect of his life, he’s trying too damn hard. No one gets more heat in blogs for odd looking photos outside of Brady Quinn, he gets no benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to believe that there are baseball players (outside of the more obviously religious) that don’t sleep around, yet the microscope on Rodriguez is constant, as if we are waiting for the infallible man on the regular-season field to fuck up spectacularly.
And he does so beautifully. Mannish stripper north of the border? Check. Awkward statements about his relationship with the team captain? Check. Rumored dalliance with over-the-hill singer? Check. Impending nasty divroce proceeding? Check.
He is a narrative we want to see; we cannot bear to see talent at that level be so inhuman, so placid, so fake in appearance that we revel in his all-too-human foibles of trying to overcome struggles in the crunch moments of the job or the usual truth that many people are only as faithful as their options. It’s no fun when someone that talented, and that loaded, is successful in every aspect of his or her life. Such a thing cannot stand.
(Note: this isn’t a “LEAVE A-ROD ALONE’ type deal. I’m fascinated by what actually makes this story tick, so to speak.)