Dust off those Madonna masks and get out your biggest syringes, Red Sox fans: A-Rod is coming to town, and maybe for the last time in pinstripes.
Bucky "Bleeping" Dent and Aaron "Bleeping" Boone pierced the hearts of Red Sox Nation with one swing of their bats, but there is no player more universally reviled at Fenway Park than Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez, who will take the field to open a three-game weekend series Friday night between the Yankees and Red Sox in Boston.
It isn't just that A-Rod is a steroid guy, or that he lied about it numerous times, or even that he is the lone accused doper trying to fight the MLB over his suspension. It's his total body of smug, selfish play as a Yankee that has kept everyone, from bleacherites to box seat gentry, on Yawkey Way booing for the past decade.
Nobody jeered the handsome, 18-year-old Mariner who made his big league debut at Fenway Park against the Mo Vaughn-John Valentin-Mike Greenwell Red Sox in July 1994. Reports were that the crowd politely applauded Seattle's No. 9 batter when he singled off Boston's Sergio Valdez for his first MLB hit.
By his 21st birthday, which he celebrated with a home run while batting ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr., Rodriguez was a superstar. Through his years in Seattle and in Texas with the Rangers, he was a feared and respected Boston opponent, but not a villain.
The hate started in the winter of 2003-04. New York had just done in the Sox during an epic ALCS and rumors leaked that Boston was going to make a three-way trade with the Angels and Rangers that would send outfield slugger Manny Ramriez to Texas and bring Rodriguez, the reigning AL MVP, to Boston.
Since A-Rod was a Gold Glove winner at shortstop, local icon Nomar Garciaparra's position, Nomar would have then been traded to the White Sox for All-Star Magglio Ordonez, who would have slipped into Manny's old spot in left field.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was steamed that Boston was poised to beat out his team for the game's best player, but he didn't have long to worry. Red Sox boss John Henry wanted to lighten some of Rodriguez's $252 million contract in $28 million of deferred payments. While A-Rod's agent, Scott Boras, initially went along with the plan, he was talked out of it by MLB Player's Association deputy director Gene Orza and Henry backed out of a less-desirable deferred-payment offer.
In swooped King George with a trade offer of his own—Alfonso Soriano and a throw-in for Rodriguez and cash—and just like that, A-Rod was a Yankee.
Making the move even more excruciating for Boston fans was that because New York already had an All-Star shortstop in Derek Jeter and since ALCS hero Boone had blown out his knee playing pick-up basketball in the offseason, Rodriguez simply moved over to third where he would be a constant reminder of the previous year's torment.
Rodriguez was instantly Public Enemy No. 1 at Fenway, and it only got worse when the Sox and Yanks tangled there on July 24 of 2004. Boston starter Bronson Arroyo hit A-Rod on the elbow with a sinker and when A-Rod started toward the mound with menacing eyes, he was intercepted by catcher Jason Varitek. The two jawed it out, after which Tek shoved his glove in Rodriguez's face in a moment that would forever signify the start of Boston's late-season push to a World Series title.
Could it get still worse? Sure.
In Game Six of the Boston-New York ALCS rematch that October at Yankee Stadium, Arroyo and A-Rod were key figures in another big moment. With Boston leading, 4-2, in the eighth inning and Jeter on first, Rodriguez hit a dinky grounder to the left of the mound. Arroyo gloved the roller and went to tag A-Rod running down the line when, suddenly, the ball was loose and rolling into right field as Jeter sprinted home.
For a moment, it looked like the beginning of another Boston postseason collapse, but Red Sox Manager Terry Francona came out to protest and slow-motion replays showed what most initially had missed, that A-Rod illegally slapped the ball out of Arroyo's glove. Holding his hands up in a "Who, me?" gesture as he stood defiantly at second base, Rodriguez was called out on interference and Jeter was sent back to first base. The Sox went on to win the game and the series.
By the next morning, an image showing the slap along with a purse Photoshopped into A-Rod'shand, was making its way across New England. Rodriguez's fate as Boston's biggest villain was sealed.
When rumors swirled that the married slugger was dating Madonna in the summer of 2008, Red Sox fans came to Fenway wearing Madonna masks. When he admitted in 2009 to doing steroids while with the Rangers, explaining that it due to self-imposed pressure to live up to a $252 million contract, Rodriguez watched Fenway fans waive posters declaring him a cheater and a baby.
Now, A-Rod is back again, for the first time since Commissioner Bud Selig announced he would be suspended for the remainder of this season and all of 2014 for further violations of the MLB's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez continues to play while appealing the commissioner's decision, but the speculation is that he will soon retire rather than accept his fate.
I have always taught my kids not to boo any player on the Red Sox or other teams. I've covered enough high school, college, and minor league games to know that every player out on that field is one of the best in the world and deserves respect. That especially goes for class acts like Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
There is, however, one exception to my rule. We won't be at any of the games this weekend, but my kids can boo as loud as they want at the radio or TV when A-Fraud steps to the plate.