By Ross Newhan
So, Alex Rodriguez hits his 661st home run to pass Willie Mays in fourth place on the all-time home run list and seldom has a very major milestone been accompanied by less fanfare and reaction.
Oh, a Thursday night crowd of 39,816 at Yankee Stadium summoned A-Rod for a sheepish curtain call and the Yankees made a modest note of the event on the scoreboard.
Less said the better, perhaps, and I get it.
Mays, after all, is a baseball icon,, perhaps the greatest all-around player ever, and Rodriguez is a convicted liar and serial user of PEDs.
McGwire eclipses Maris, Bonds passes Aaron, Clemens wins his seventh Cy Young, Palmeiro amasses more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
The Steroid Era has left a bloody and ongoing stain, and historians of the future should have a field day providing perspective.
I am at the computer to make only a couple points about the events of Thursday night, and A-Rod's performance after a year in purgatory.
1--The Yankees, with all of their Monument Park history, with all of their public distaste about having Rodriguez wear the sainted uniform again, with all of their insistance that they will not pay Rodriguez the $6 million milestone bonus included in his contract, are emerging a bit small and hypocritical. Somewhere along the Yankee high road they need to find a compromise over a bonus that would need to be paid again in the unlikely event Rodriguez climbs another step and reaches Babe Ruth at 714.
The bonus, the Yankees claim, was designed to repay Rodriguez for the marketing riches they would enjoy on his climb up the home run ladder. Now, however, his marketing value has evaporated, they insist, because of the suspension and PED hangover. That argument, with it's measure of truth, would carry more weight if the Yankees were also pulling A-Rod's jerseys and other paraphernalia from their gift shops, which they haven't. Marketing is marketing, unless you have to pay for it.
In addition, while the Yankees may not have wanted Rodriguez back, guess who is frequently batting third in their lineup and delivering clutch hits in a 19-11 opening that has helped lift his team to a three game lead in the American League East as of Saturday.
Rodriguez, amid all of this, has taken a humble posture, wrapped himself in the modest embrace of teammates mostly interested in a distraction free final score, and refused to indicate whether he will wage a union fight for the milestone bonus. He has a month to decide, under terms of his contract, and this is where it seems a compromise would be easy, a gift in the name of the Yankees and Rodriguez to charity, removing the possibility of another unsettling and open wound.
2--I first met Rodriguez, in the Kingdome clubhouse, in his first full year with Seattle. He was 20, and said, "can I get you a chair and soft drink." I never had a player make that offer before or after, but he had already been schooled by agent Scott Boras and PR specialist Andrea Kirby and it eventually became apparent, through all the deceptive summers, that he was never quite real, never quite what he seemed to be.
Yet, it remains mind boggling to think of the ego that influenced Rodriguez to use steroids in the first place, the apparent need to inflate a talent that had already met and conquered the great expectations with those series of sensational, steroid free (an assumption) years as a wunderkind in Seattle and has surfaced again, at 40, after a year on the sideline, in a steroid free (another assumption) return with the Yankees. Rodriguez isn't tearing it up, but he is delivering more than what might have been expected in an awkward environment, letting his bat do the talking. And in the wake of a milestone that isn't all it could have been, should have been, and would probably have been reached without chemical help, I think back to that first meeting and the career and person that got away.