JUPITER, Fla. – His teammates are shedding crocodile tears because Alex Rodriguez, steroids or not, is one of the best baseball players in the world, and his greatness breeds insincerity. Don't let them fool you. The torn labrum in A-Rod's right hip that will sideline him for the near future is the best thing that could have happened to the New York Yankees, the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic team and especially Rodriguez, who needs a vacation – and from whom baseball needs one, too.
This is no longer a circus. It abandoned its clownish charm and devolved into Three Stooges-level idiocy when A-Rod's tagalong cousin – the one he alleges procured his steroids and administered them with a needle – pulled up in a car after the Yankees' first spring-training game to chauffeur Rodriguez away. Yuri Sucart, the Curly of the scene, revealed himself by rolling down his window. A-Rod – he would be Larry – jumped in the car unaware he'd been caught alongside the very guy he'd sold out a week earlier. And that left the Yankees – perhaps the biggest fools here, for they've got nine more years in this purgatory – to play Moe, bopping A-Rod for his stupidity.
Since then, it's only been more. Driving his $350,000 Maybach to remind a downtrodden country he makes about $50,000 an at-bat. Trotting out his kids for a photo op, with his ex-wife – the one he ditched for 50-year-old Madonna, who has since ditched him – standing by, lips sealed only by a prenup. Saying he'd just love to have a shortstop and leadoff hitter like the Mets' Jose Reyes – and then causing skid marks with his backtracking to ensure that didn't sound insulting to Derek Jeter or Johnny Damon.
As if Rodriguez's hip were the only carbon-based form to recognize the situation's frivolity, it gifted him – and us – a reprieve. The injury isn't a career ender – the torn labrum in the hip has caused a cyst to form on the bone – though it will require cortisone shots so long as Rodriguez sticks with his plan of rehabilitation. When the inevitable surgery beckons, the Yankees think it will sideline him for four months.
For now, rehab provides enough of a buffer for everyone. Let Rodriguez slip out of the limelight. Allow the $450 million worth of new players to assimilate to a life not wholly consumed by steroids, because being a Yankee is hard enough without a daily happy hour that serves primobolan-and-testosterone cocktails. Don't saddle the Dominican team, already leery with its steadfast support of steroid-linked trainer Angel Presinal, any more reason to appear suspicious.
If possible, keep A-Rod tucked away through April 14. That day, Selena Roberts' book arrives on shelves. Though the salacious passages surely will surface earlier, the release coincides with the opening of the new Yankee Stadium. To see Rodriguez, not known for his oratory skills, try to navigate the many minefields dropped by Roberts – who for Sports Illustrated broke the original story of Rodriguez's positive steroid test in 2003 – would be good sport, if not another blow to a legacy that in one month has gone from platinum to tin foil.
In that time, everyone around the sport has weighed in with an opinion on Rodriguez. Aside from those obligated to support him – teammates and the players' union – there is a consensus: No matter the transcendence of his talent, the burden Rodriguez places on the Yankees is like uranium – toxic, radioactive and heavy.
Certainly they'll miss his bat if he isn't healthy by April 6 or opts for surgery. Rodriguez remains one of the game's great players, and the difference between him and Cody Ransom – the 33-year-old career minor leaguer who replaces A-Rod, barring a trade – is like tasting Coke and then switching to diet.
For what it's worth, Ransom probably won't get popped with any boli anytime soon.
Over the next week, as Rodriguez learns how his hip responds to treatment, his name will surface in the black-and-white fashion it only can: with cracks and criticism, or platitudes like the one delivered Wednesday by Dominican captain Moises Alou.
"I wish he was here," he said. "We all wish he was here. We love Alex. He would've made this team a lot better. He's going to be missed dearly."
If he stays missing, though, something will happen. Ransom's name will begin to look normal in the Yankees' everyday lineup. The Dominican team will rave about Miguel Tejada's comfort at third base (which make sense, because he should've been playing there three years ago). And as much as possible for a home run-hitting, steroid-using, Madonna-trysting nowhere man, A-Rod will fade from the everyday insanity into a respite.
The vacation can't begin soon enough.