Saturday, June 20, 2015

The incredible dimness of numbers

He could have been like the only other man to do this, had he chosen the brighter path. He could have been venerated, exalted, etched in bas relief in his profession's highest place of honor.

Yes, sir, America. Alex Rodriguez could have been Henry Aaron.

Instead, he is only Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod. A-Fraud. A-What-The-Hell-Were-You-Thinkin'-Dude.

With a lack of ceremony that was especially painful given its context  -- baseball, a sport that worships its history, speaking of it in embarrassed whispers -- Rodriguez collected this 3,000th career hit last night. He now has 3,000 hits, 667 home runs and 2,0004 RBIs in his career, numbers matched in all the long echoing history of the game by only, yes, Henry Aaron.

And yet Henry Aaron is Henry Aaron. And A-Rod is only A-Rod.

And so there is a profound sadness today, as there is pretty much every day with Rodriguez. There is sadness because all those glowing numbers are a con, and it is Rodriguez himself who perpetrated it. It is Rodriguez himself who cheated the game, and his own legacy, for reasons that will always surpass understanding.

The great tragedy of the Steroids Era is not that everyone who played in it is guilty by association, even if they were not guilty in fact. It's that the people who most felt compelled to cut such a noxious corner were the people who least needed to. A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro -- they would have been all-time greats had they never touched a needle or a cream or a clear, with the only difference being a few ultimately inconsequential numbers.

Baseball may be its numbers, but when weighed against a man's legacy, numbers are only numbers. Would Rodriguez be less great had had he done it clean and hit 557 home runs instead of 667? Or put up a couple hundred fewer hits and RBI? Or would those numbers have been substantially different at all, given the amount of games he's lost to suspension because he chose that darker path?

And that was, irony upon ironies, by far the harder path as well?

So much easier just to do it clean, and ultimately so much less damaging. Not to say so much more rewarding.

Alex Rodriguez could have been Henry Aaron, after all.

Instead, he is only Alex Rodriguez.

So much more the pity.   


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