There were three instances in recent memory when I was convinced Alex Rodriguez's reputation was finally destroyed beyond repair.
First, in October of 2007, with the Boston Red Sox readying the champagne for their World Series victory celebration, Rodriguez's agent Scott Boras announced that his client would be opting out of his 10-year, $252 million contract. At the time, this appeared to be the end of A-Rod's tenure with the New York Yankees, which would have meant that he had ultimately failed in what he was brought over to do: bring a championship back to the Bronx.
Rodriguez/Boras's reasoning was whimsy at best—there was a claim that A-Rod was questioning the future composition of the team, but from his new contract, one could easily suspect he simply wanted more money. However, it was the timing of the announcement that was truly emblematic of the narcissism that so many have come to deplore in Rodriguez.
The Red Sox were playing the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series, and Boston was on the cusp of the sweep. In other words, during the time of the season when one team is emphasized more than anything else, Rodriguez decided to make it all about the one individual he deemed worthy to eclipse that notion: himself.
Second, in February of 2009, Rodriguez was revealed to have failed a Major League Baseball drug test during his stint with the Texas Rangers, the period in which he put up his most impressive numbers. A-Rod went on to admit his usage, which redeemed him in some eyes. Still, critics could finally place substantial doubt in his astronomical statistics, his status as the best player in baseball and his eventual Hall of Fame induction.
Finally, there is the ongoing situation involving Rodriguez's alleged involvement in illegal poker games. Although the most recent updates on the controversy suggest that the third baseman will not in fact face a suspension, Rodriguez nevertheless finds himself in hot water yet again.
These three incidents stand out in my mind for two main reasons.
One, through either sheer coincidence or incredible scheming skills, A-Rod was not actually playing baseball when any of these events occurred.
The opt-out controversy took place after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs and left to watch their rivals take home the World Series trophy. The steroid admission took place during the offseason—and, for good measure, Rodriguez didn't even play during the first five weeks of the season because he was recovering from hip surgery.
This poker situation, though it might drag on for awhile, has played out while Rodriguez is again on the disabled list, this time for his knee.
But, more importantly, these scandals bring out some of the worst conduct we see in athletes.
If you try to compare A-Rod's antics to those of other controversial stars, you can make the rough comparison to LeBron James' leaving Cleveland, Barry Bonds' steroid mess and Pete Rose's gambling on baseball.
Those are three of the most disliked athletes in recent history, each one convicted in the court of public opinion on one primary charge—and Rodriguez has dabbled in each one of those grievances in the span of four years.
Before anyone gets sidetracked by these aforementioned comparisons, I will admit that there is some stretching involved; A-Rod's attachment to New York was not analogous to James' tie to Cleveland, he never faced federal charges with regards to his drug use and, as far as we know, he never bet on a baseball game.
Still, the same core actions are still there: disloyalty, cheating and gambling.
And that's without bringing up A-Rod's other off-field tabloid endeavors. While infidelity is very serious and immoral in everyday life, it unfortunately isn't as contentious in the sports world. After all, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade recently went through a divorce, during which his ex-wife claimed Wade was unfaithful during their marriage. At last check, Wade was still one of the most popular and well-liked players in the NBA.
The thing with Rodriguez is, after everything he's done, extra-marital affairs somehow attract the least attention outside of the Us Weekly world. And while we joke about his self-depiction as a centaur and his sunbathing habits in Central Park, the fact is that it's harder to laugh at those stories when there's always a more serious one soon to follow.
Rodriguez is currently under contract with the Yankees until 2017, which in itself seems like a poor decision at best, considering that 42-year-old third basemen (or even 42-year-old designated hitters) aren't generally worth $20 million.
If the next six seasons are anything like the past eight, what will Rodriguez's reputation look like at the end of his career? His numbers, no matter how high they go and how many records they shatter, will always be taken with a grain of salt now that he's a convicted steroid user (and, in case you haven't noticed, his stats are already starting to dip significantly, though he's also missed considerable time due to injury).
Right now, A-Rod's legacy resembles something like Lord Voldemort's soul from the Harry Potter series (for those of you who don't understand the reference, accept my apology as well as my strong recommendation to read the books). Rodriguez must have done something to break this entity apart, to split it into multiple pieces that must all be punctured before it is entirely destroyed.
Because, for right now, Rodriguez may be a laughingstock, a jerk, a cheat, a narcissist and a phony. But he's also Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees third baseman and cleanup hitter, a guy continually relied on to drive in runs and stabilize the lineup.
And as long as he does that, people, at least in New York, will always give him a chance.
As far as how they will remember him after he's retired is another story entirely.