The countdown to spring training is on, as is the debate over exactly what Alex Rodriguez should say when he gets there.
A modest proposal: Not a word. Keep the mouth shut, and play ball.
The American culture has grown to demand some sort of accountability for sinners. Stand up before the cameras, confess your crimes, beg forgiveness.
Do that, and you are rewarded a second chance. But Rodriguez is a repeat offender and serial liar. He has proven his word is no good.
We do not need to hear from him. We listened in a news conference six years ago, when he blamed his steroid use on being “young and stupid,” “pretty naïve,” “ignorant,” “immature” and “silly and irresponsible.”
He also said this, words that are breathtakingly arrogant in retrospect: “I am confident that, at the end of my career, people will see this for what it is — a stupid mistake and a lesson learned for a guy with a lot of baseball to play.”
Rodriguez is fast approaching the end of his career, after being banished by the league last year as a habitual drug cheat. He denied, denied, denied. He torched the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball, even the players’ union leader who had tried to help even as he was dying from brain cancer.
What do we need to hear now? My bad? Oopsies?
Rodriguez met with Yankees executives earlier this week and afterward the player and team issued a joint statement that said Rodriguez had “apologized to the organization for his actions over the past several years.”
Ben Porritt, one of the political communications consultants who staged that notorious 2009 Rodriguez news conference, said there would be little sense in another public show.
The first time, the Yankees were about to win the World Series, and Rodriguez was a dynamic force in the lineup. Neither appears to be true now, but Porritt cites a more relevant reason for skipping the televised mea culpa:
Last time, Rodriguez might have been able to sway public opinion, to persuade fans undecided about his behavior. “This time, it’s different,” Porritt said in a phone interview. “The jury has deliberated. The courtroom has adjourned.”
The Yankees, for all their huffing and puffing about not wanting to honor Rodriguez’s contract, need his big bat in their lineup. And Rodriguez needs to show he still carries a big bat.
It’s just business, and Rodriguez and the Yankees might as well get on with it, without a news conference, and maybe without the statement he could issue in lieu of taking questions.
“There’s going to be curiosity,” said Porritt, who said he has not consulted with Rodriguez in recent years. “I think the only statement that really matters for Alex Rodriguez is going to be his ability to play baseball at a high level.”
That is the great unknown.
In 2009, Rodriguez was coming off a year in which he led the American League in slugging percentage. That percentage has declined every year since then, and he has barely played the last two seasons — 44 games in 2013, none last year.
Rodriguez recently told Barry Bonds that he wanted to hit the 109 home runs needed to surpass Bonds as the league’s all-time home-run king, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Yet it is too soon to know if Rodriguez is capable of hitting one more home run, let alone another hundred.
He is 39. Tim Salmon was 37 when he made the Angels in 2006 after sitting out an entire season — because of injury rather than suspension.
“He has to prove to himself he can still do it,” Salmon said of Rodriguez. “Sometimes, you’re just putting on a front, saying you can do it.
“I know he still thinks he can do it. Until he gets in the box and sees some real pitches coming at him, he won’t know.”
Until 2006 — the season that turned out to be his last — Salmon said he never came to spring training fighting for a job. That experience will be new to Rodriguez too, since the Yankees have installed Chase Headley at third base.
Rodriguez has three years and $61 million left on his contract, but the Yankees can pay him off and let him go at any time. He has played 100 games once in the past four years. The Yankees might be happy to get 100 games out of him this year, presumably as a designated hitter, but the three-time most valuable player still might consider himself an everyday member of the lineup.
“I do think it it’s going to be a circus, on top of all the other stuff,” Salmon said. “In spring training, he’ll be the strongest he’ll be all year. ... “What’s going to happen in April, May, June? Can you do it after 45 days, 60 days, 90 days at your age?”
If he can, that would be the most meaningful statement Rodriguez could make.
“He knows this is his last chance to write a comeback story,” Porritt said. “He’s one of the unique talents of the last 15 years. He might be able to do it.”
If he can, that might be worth talking about.