It probably says more about me than I want it to, but I've always found myself defending Alex Rodriguez. Maybe I'm just being contrarian, maybe I'm suspicious of the motives of those who lambast him most aggressively, maybe I'm just a soulless person who can't differentiate between good and bad. But I always sort of feel for the guy.
Athletes generally are so coddled at a young age that they never quite grow out of an extended adolescence -- Kevin Millar is 41 years old and still frosting the tips of his hair -- but A-Rod actually had this worse than most. At 19, he was being called the greatest young prospect in baseball history. Sports Illustrated quoted a scout saying he was "the next Cal Ripken," and he had dozens of people waiting for him to make boatloads of money for them, as a teenager, long before that was common. Even back then, he had a plaintive, almost desperate need to be liked. Now that has calcified into a Nixonian paranoia -- a paranoia that's entirely justified, by the way -- but there was something sad about it, something lonely and empty, from the very beginning. I don't like A-Rod, necessarily, but I have empathy for him sometimes. And I definitely don't like piling on for the sake of headline schadenfreude. It's just all sometimes a bit much.
It's hard to do that this morning, though, after "60 Minutes" reported that the initial leak to Yahoo! Sports that Ryan Braun was one of the Biogenesis clients may have been from "members of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez's inner circle." (A-Rod's teammate Francisco Cervelli was leaked too.) The "A-Rat" headlines are so obvious I'm pretty sure Pat Riley already trademarked it.
This is a leak of a leak of a leak about a leak, which is the most A-Rod thing ever; I don't know who in the world could possibly be left in A-Rod's "inner circle," but they've been busy. It is worth remembering that as egregious as this sounds today, back in February when this allegedly happened, getting Braun's name out there did legitimately take some heat off of A-Rod. Biogenesis, after the Miami New Times story initially hit, felt like an A-Rod story, and an A-Rod story only. It wasn't until Braun's name -- which had initially been redacted -- came out that the scope of the whole "operation" became clear. Braun was already in MLB's crosshairs after the perception that he had found a loophole to skirt punishment from failing his own test, and when his name came out, people stopped talking about A-Rod and focused on Braun. Well, for a day or two, anyway.
What I've always found interesting about A-Rod's unpopularity is that there appears to be genuine antipathy from his playing colleagues. Ordinarily when an athlete is constantly in the public crosshairs like A-Rod is, teammates and fellow players tend to rally around the person, or at least allow them the relative normalcy and solace of a locker room. When the world hated LeBron James after The Decision, you never got the sense that the rest of the NBA went along with it; there was a clear, "only players can understand other players" vibe. You saw elements of this with Barry Bonds, Brett Favre, Kobe Bryant, even Michael Vick. The world swirled angrily around them, but they were always afforded the ability to simply play by their peers. No matter what happened out there, on the field or the court, they were all just one of the guys.
But A-Rod has never quite had this. Derek Jeter has won considerable public relations points simply by never rising to A-Rod's defense about anything. Yankees players hate being asked about A-Rod and clearly just want him to go away, even though many of them have an extra ring on their finger because of his play. After the Biogenesis business went down, there was considerable discussion about how offended players really were by the PED abusers among them, but the one thing every player said, including Mariano Rivera, was that you couldn't cut loose your teammates, no matter what. They're family. If "60 Minutes" is right, A-Rod just sold out one of his teammates, Cervelli, and not only that, is continuing to play for the team while Cervelli serves his suspension. That's not going to go over well.
Every time A-Rod does something, or is at the center of another ugly report, it gets a little worse. Seeing him play for the Yankees -- at Fenway Park on Friday night, no less -- is beginning to feel ghoulish, like watching a body spasm because it doesn't know the brain is dead yet, like a decapitated snake trying to eat its own tail. A-Rod's inner circle has made it so bad for him that nothing exists outside that inner circle but disgust. I do still feel for A-Rod. To be so alone, and despised, must be isolating and terrifying. But as much as people love to pile on him for their own self-serving interests … it's becoming more and more clear that this is never going to get better for him. That's not entirely his fault. But it mostly is.