The Material Boy is back.
Dust off those Madonna masks and get out your biggest syringes, Boston fans, A-Rod is coming to town -- 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. 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 Vaughn-Valentin-Greenwell Red Sox in July 1994. Reports are that the crowd politely applauded Seattle's number-nine batter when he singled off Boston's Sergio Valdez for his first MLB hit.
A-Rod and Junior
By his 21st birthday, which he celebrated with a home run while batting in front 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 outfielder/slugger Manny Ramriez to Texas and bring reigning MVP Rodriguez here. Since A-Rod was a Gold Glove winner at shortstop, local icon Nomar Garciaparra's position, Nomar would then be traded to the White Sox for All-Star Magglio Ordonez -- who would slip 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, and although 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 Gen 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.
Smug as a bug in a rug.
Making the move even more excruciating for Boston fans was this: because New York already had an All-Star shortstop in Derek Jeter, and because 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. 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.
Take that, A-Fraud!
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 8th and Jeter on first, Rodriguez hit a dinky grounder to the left of the mound; Arroyo gloved it, went to tag A-Rod running down the line, and suddenly the ball was lose 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 missed -- A-Rod illegally slapping the ball out of Arroyo's glove. Rodriguez (holding his hands up in a "who me?" gesture as he stood defiantly at second base) was declared out on interference, Jeter was put back at first. The Sox went on to win the game and of course the series.
Actually, I find this photo an insult to women.
By the next morning a picture showing the exact moment of the slap, with a purse photo-shopped into A-Rod's hand, 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 summer 2008, Red Sox fans came to Fenway with Madonna masks; when he admitted in 2009 to doing steroids while with the Rangers due to self-imposed pressure to live up to a $252 million contract, they waved 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 steroid policy. He's playing while appealing the commissioner's decision, but many speculate he will soon retire rather than accept his fate.
Yanks fans may soon get their wish.
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 guy out on that field is one of the best in the world, and deserves your respect. This 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.