Alex Rodriguez Was the Ultimate Boston Sports Villain
Years ago, if the Major League Baseball Players’ Association had allowed Alex Rodriguez to restructure his contract and take a massive pay cut, he likely would’ve been the leading protagonist in the Red Sox’s quest for their first championship since 1918. Instead, he became Public Enemy No. 1.
The proposed trade, which was chronicled in an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary two years ago, would’ve sent Manny Ramirez and then-pitching prospect Jon Lester to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Rodriguez. In order to clear shortstop for A-Rod, the Red Sox would’ve then shipped Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez and pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
The union balked at the deal, though, and less than two months later, the New York Yankees swooped in and acquired A-Rod to play third base.
But after 22 drama-filled seasons, including a record-setting 162-game suspension in 2014 for his ties to the South Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis, A-Rod’s time as a player will come to an end Friday (unless, of course, another team picks him up). Appropriately, the abbreviated farewell tour will include a stop in Boston, where he’s been vilified more than any other player who’s ever stepped onto Fenway Park’s hallowed grounds.
At the climax of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry last decade, Rodriguez was the perfect representative of the Evil Empire. Though he never wore a Red Sox uniform, he’ll forever be an instrumental figure in the franchise’s history. There have been many incidents of discord over the years—such as when Red Sox fans wore blonde woman masks to mock A-Rod’s reported fling with a Toronto stripper—but three stand out above the rest.
The Varitek Brawl:
On July 24, 2004, Red Sox hurler Bronson Arroyo hit Rodriguez with a breaking ball in the third inning. Rather than take his base, A-Rod began jawing with catcher Jason Varitek. The two were in each other’s faces moments later, sparking a full-fledged fracas.
The Red Sox wound up winning the game 11-10, after third baseman Bill Mueller clubbed a walk-off home run. This victory is often cited as one of the turning points in the Sox’s ’04 campaign, in which they sported a .500 record during the first half of the season before going on their historic championship chase.
The lead story of Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and Yankees was Curt Schilling’s bloody sock. But a close runner-up was A-Rod’s ill-fated decision to slap the baseball out of Bronson Arroyo’s globe in order to avoid being tagged out in the eighth inning.
With Derek Jeter on first in a two-run game, Rodriguez hit a weak ground ball to the right side of the infield. Arroyo raced off the pitcher’s mound, grabbed the ball, and attempted to slap the tag on A-Rod before he reached first base. But instead of merely trying to avoid the tag, Rodriguez decided to smack Arroyo.
After a couple minutes of deliberation, the umpiring crew decided to call A-Rod out for interference. One would be hard-pressed to find a more embarrassing on-field blunder—especially for a superstar player the caliber of Rodriguez. (A-Rod came close to topping himself three years later, when he yelled “I got it!” to distract a Toronto Blue Jays infielder who was trying to catch a pop-up.)
Upstaging the Red Sox’s 2007 World Series Win:
There’s an unspoken rule in professional sports that nothing can overshadow the championship game. But in October 2007, Rodriguez apparently didn’t think that tradition applied to him.
With the Red Sox just two innings away from sweeping the Colorado Rockies in the Fall Classic, Rodriguez announced he was opting out of his contract with the Yankees. The timing of the negotiation ploy was so poorly received that A-Rod called it a “debacle” a couple of months later.
A shell of his former self, the 41-year Rodriguez won’t likely make any noise with his bat at Fenway this week. But Red Sox fans should remember these moments as they watch A-Rod for the last time. There wasn’t anyone they loved to hate more.