By Ross Newhan
Who is Alex Rodriguez, and When Did He Disappear?
Those questions have resonated with me since I first met him in 1996.
He was 21 and in his first full season with the Seattle Mariners, who had made him the first player to be selected in the June draft of 1993, much to the consternation of the Dodgers, who had the second choice and selected Darren Dreifort.
Arguably the most touted, talented and baseball wise player ever to come out of high school (Miami's Westminster Christian), Rodriguez was all of that in '96, on his way to leading the American League in batting and doubles while hitting 36 home runs, driving in 123 and ultimately
finishing second in voting for the league's Most Valuable Player Award.
Thus, it was no surprise that the Los Angeles Times, my longtime employer, agreed with my recommendation that I fly to Seattle and prepare an in-depth story on the young shortstop.
It was early in that dazzling summer of his, and I made arrangements with his agent, Scott Boras, to let Rodriguez know I was coming and to set up a time to meet him in the clubhouse.
I have made similar arrangements dozens (hundreds?) of times while covering baseball for more than 50 years, but the player was not always at the time and place that had been established, and often, in fact, would plead ignorance of the appointment.
Rodriguez, however, was at his locker at the designated hour, and, after introducing myself, he asked, "can I get you a chair and a soft drink?"
I'm sure I had a stunned look on my face since no player had ever greeted me so solicitously, or would ever greet me so solicitously.
At the same time, I knew that Boras had arranged with the public relations specialist, Andrea Kirby, to work with Rodriguez from the time he first signed, and the lessons had obviously taken.
I would remember that greeting every time I chatted with or interviewed Rodriguez in subsequent years, every time I talked to a teammate about him, because I was never sure--and many of those teammates didn't seem to be either--whether I was talking to or about the real A-Rod or a PR creation.
Those personal feelings were endorsed by former Yankee manager Joe Torre in his recent book, "The Yankee Years."
Torre wrote that teammates and clubhouse attendants often referred to A-Rod as "A-Fraud," and that Rodriguez was too often unable to "concern himself with getting the job done" because he was distracted with "how it looks."
Now, of course, with the Yankees silent endorsement, the commissioner seems determined to make Rodriguez, whoever he is, disappear literally.
He is expected to be suspended for life or, at least, multiple years that would likely terminate his career since he is 38 and coming off two hip operations.
And I am left with a strange mix of emotions.
Based on his admitted and alleged use of performance enhancing substances and all of the involved deceptions (and recent acts of desperation), the overriding reaction is to say good riddance.
Yet, in trying to decipher what was real and what was not about the person, the player and his career of 647 home runs, 2,091 hits and three MVP Awards, there is a feeling of sadness related to the issue of what might have been.
Instead of a living testimonial to all of the scouting reports, as he was in so many of those early years, instead of Cooperstown, he is about to join Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe in baseball confinement.