CHICAGO – In the late evening of his first real ballgame in many months, and given the AL East standings even that is open to conjecture, Alex Rodriguez whispered something into the ear of a familiar clubhouse attendant. The clubbie in Yankees colors hustled 15 feet and in turn whispered into the ear of a local clubbie, he in White Sox colors. That clubbie nodded and ran off in the other direction, disappeared into what looked like a secret pantry, and emerged with the object of this quiet commotion.
In all the comings and goings, over the course of a chaotic day that fit squarely amid his chaotic life, Rodriguez apparently had forgotten to pack a toothbrush. The local clubbie held aloft this miracle of oral hygiene as though it were the first-born son of royalty, delivering it with all due haste and decorum.
Damaged, shamed and going on perhaps $30 million poorer, he remained A-Rod – buff it up, put a smile on it, fake it ‘til you make it. He’d say he was humbled to be back in the uniform and on the field, he’d admit with a sigh that this was also a terribly difficult time, and he’d muse over the swings he’d taken against the White Sox and whether he was really physically ready for this or not. What he’s not done is back down, not an inch, which one might perceive as very arrogant, very dumb or very curious.
He’d been booed, of course, but that was barely more than static. The crowd at U.S. Cellular Field seemed to come at him out of duty rather than any real resentment. Pop up with two on and two out at Yankee Stadium, that’s resentment.
Then he’d sweep across the room, push through the exit of the clubhouse, find his latest lovely and kiss her on the lips. While many of his teammates continued down a large hallway and toward a waiting bus, Rodriguez and his companion veered left. They’d take their own way.
But, to where?
What is to come of Rodriguez, of his Yankees, of this coming deployment of lawyers and their billable hours?
Rodriguez, for the moment, plays. The night after he debuted at third base and in the cleanup spot at U.S. Cellular Field, he was the designated-hitter and batted third.
He’s still a 38-year-old man coming off hip surgery and a quadriceps strain, still a guy having some trouble sleeping because of this mess he created, still a dad who will see his daughters – they’re 8 and 5 – this weekend in New York and have to explain what all this stuff in the newspapers has been about. Love him or hate him, that’s not a comfortable talk.
Barring an 11th-hour change of heart, Rodriguez will appeal the 211-game sentence handed down by MLB commissioner Bud Selig on Monday. According to sources, the Rodriguez camp, which includes the union, has less of a quarrel with the evidence uncovered through the Biogenesis investigation than it does with the punishment, which it believes far outweighs the alleged crimes. At a time when Melky Cabrera was making up websites and serving 50 games, and Ryan Braun was beating actual positive tests before getting whacked for 65, those on Rodriguez’s side are appalled at a suspension of more than three times Braun.
In fact, union chief Michael Weiner told Siriux/XM radio he advised Rodriguez to accept a suspension had MLB lightened its duration.
“I don’t want to give a number,” Weiner told Chris Russo, “but there was a number that I gave A-Rod and we advised him to take it.”
MLB never reached that number. But the union was ready to deal. Rodriguez might have been amenable. He was unwilling to elaborate Tuesday night.
“First of all, I just came out of the game,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not talking about that any longer.”
Instead, they’ll stand before the arbitrator and, if necessary, attempt to take it all the way to federal court, because – and this is where the union comes in – there is no precedent for the perceived heavy-handedness of a 211-game hit, and one day there will be other men with other contracts to protect. In that regard, the lone appealing party could have been anyone, not just A-Rod, and it could have been any contract, not just his. It just happens to be A-Rod and his contract. Which, frankly, it so often is.
The union seems to believe the arbitration process will run into winter, which, in that case, leaves Rodriguez with another 51 games of baseball. And that’s all we know. It’s all he knows. He’ll play until they tell him he can’t, and maybe he deserves that and maybe he doesn’t. But he’ll cling to what is becoming known as The Process, because, honestly, that’s where his money is.
The Yankees will have him because they don’t have a choice, and because their only hope to salvage their season is to get something out of their offense. That rests partly on Rodriguez, the 38-year-old guy with three MVPs, two bad hips and one case of insomnia who is one step ahead of the law. It’d be two, but, you know, the hips.
After two days and two Yankees losses, Rodriguez has two singles in six at-bats. He’s walked once and been hit by a pitch. And the Yankees, in those two games with Rodriguez in the lineup, have scored three runs against the White Sox. By the time he pushed through that exit door Tuesday night, the Yankees were on their way to being 10 ½ games behind the Red Sox. The season was getting worse, not better.
What Rodriguez needs to do is show up while he’s still allowed and find a swing that’s been missing for too long.
“Obviously,” he said, “it feels good to be healed up and swinging the bat better.”
The rest he’d have to leave to another time.
Asked Tuesday about Rodriguez and the suspension and the appeal and what it all means for the Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman referred reporters to the club’s statement from the day before.
“We’re focused on baseball things,” he said.
These days, that covers a lot of ground.
More suspension coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Jeff Passan: Sad road to Alex Rodriguez's suspension
• Suspended Alex Rodriguez says he's 'fighting for my life'
• Twitter: MLB players react to Alex Rodriguez's suspension
• Remember when Alex Rodriguez was likable?