A-Rod, by Selena Roberts, doesn’t take long to cut to the heart of what it really is. You can tell what it is easily by looking to the top of the cover, where it mentions that Roberts is the Sports Illustrated writer who broke A-Rods steroids scandal.
As far as tomes to the fallen baseball heroes we once loved and wanted to believe in go, A-Rod is even more egregious and angry-written than Jeff Pearlman’s The Rocket that Fell to Earth, a biography of Roger Clemens in which Pearlman writes fed up. While I was reading A-Rod, I kept getting the impression that Roberts was not only airing the dirty laundry of Alex Rodriguez, but that she was doing so in a real hurry, as if she needed to finish the book before the A-Rod steroid story cooled down. She also seemed to be writing it out with an attitude reminiscent of a kid whose lunch money kept getting stolen.
When I read through the epilogue, my suspicion was basically confirmed. Roberts takes a first-person viewpoint and writes out a sizable retort to Rodriguez’s personal attack on her on a news show. Now, I can grant her a free pass for writing that out at the least. After all, she’s a reporter who doesn’t even have her photo on the book flap while A-Rod is a universally known and beloved baseball superstar, so that left her with pretty much no choice but to defend herself against the things Rodriguez said about her on national TV. And lord knows that way Rodriguez has been acting in public lately places the benefit of the doubt squarely in Roberts’s corner.
Selena Roberts seems to have wanted to shed a little light on the mysterious, veiled, enigmatic figure that is Alex Rodriguez, something which the New York City media has been cheerfully doing ever since his arrival in The Bronx. The Rodriguez facade had already crumbled to dust long before A-Rod was ever written because no one really wants to leave him alone these days. I find that the trouble with Roberts’s book here is that it’s a real rush job in that she just doesn’t come off with any point besides trying to make Rodriguez look bad. Alex Rodriguez the sympathetic little kid is the subject of a couple of chapters, but once that’s wrapped up, the bulk of A-Rod is a straight battering. So much of A-Rod focuses on Rodriguez’s steroid use and contracts that the title might as well have been “Money and Muscles: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez.”
A-Rod reads like the Hollywood tabloids. Rodriguez comes off as an anti-hero at the best of times, and a two-dimensional villain in the worst of times. Rodriguez’s impressive accomplishments on the baseball diamond are minimized, and that allows us a full picture of Alex Rodriguez the cartoon character. It allows us to look at Rodriguez the same way Roberts writes about Rodriguez looking at himself: A man who believes his greatest accomplishments aren’t his batting statistics or the impressive home run totals he hit, but his ridiculous contracts with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees. Rodriguez is written as a man who thinks his greatest feat is reaching the height of celebrity, and who looks at baseball as nothing more than the vessel that brought him up to it.
I think the scariest information I got out of A-Rod is about just how rampant steroids are apparently running in high school athletics. That is, according to Roberts, the time Rodriguez was first exposed to steroids. Now, I can admit I really don’t give a crap about how many players use steroids, and I’ve said before that I believe they should be legalized. The scary part about high schoolers on steroids is the fact that so many of these kids are pressured into using them because they see baseball as their only possible way of life. Therefore, they feel an intense need to focus on and succeed in baseball, and things simply shouldn’t be that way.
Throughout A-Rod, Roberts doesn’t do much more than spew out the same information the tabloids and New York City media have been giving us ever since Rodriguez became a Bomber. She tends to draw out the information a little bit more, and give us more behind the scenes details: Things like how Scott Boras became Rodriguez’s agent, how Rodriguez really felt about Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, and his taste in women leading him to both Cynthia Scurtis and Madonna. She writes him as a man who just isn’t very good at getting swallowed up by the celebrity lifestyle once he gets to the Yankees, after years of playing the squeaky-clean good guy with the Rangers and Seattle Mariners so many people want popular athletes to be.
I didn’t get anything out of A-Rod. It comes off as too rushed, too hostile, and more about the material things Alex Rodriguez wanted as celebrity coups than the man himself. Although Roberts writes that Rodriguez does have a good side, it doesn’t crop up very often in this book. A-Rod feels flat, but if there’s one thing a reader can really learn from it, it’s that famous athletes frequently have sides they don’t show to the public. Honestly, after the recent Lance Armstrong fiasco, nothing would surprise me anymore, so it’s really time we quit lionizing these people as examples of how to live righteous lives. (I’ve written about my frustration over this, too.)
The biggest blow against A-Rod is the fact that Selena Roberts appears to be another person who believes fans care about steroids. Any fan being honest will admit he just doesn’t, and that’s why we still watch. In this respect, A-Rod can be taken as a condemnation of sports journalism, which is chock full of writers who think they speak for the fans, but who are, in reality, so out of touch that it’s embarrassing.