Standing on a principle about baseball and A-Rod

A-Rod deserves shame, shame and eternal shame

I was really tempted to turn my back on A-Rod when he came to bat for the Yankees with two outs in the top of the ninth Tuesday night at Camden Yards, but good thing I didn't. I would have missed his lame grounder to short that ended the game.

That's the only problem with what I otherwise find to be an admirable protest introduced the night before by Tolbert Rowe, the Orioles fan from the Eastern Shore who stood and turned his back to the playing field when Alex Rodriguez, the great player and great cheater, came to bat.

"I wanted to do something more than boo," Rowe said Wednesday from his office at Bay Capital Mortgage in Easton, where he's a loan officer. "I decided to just stand up and not look at him. I said, 'Dude, you've embarrassed the Yankee name, the Yankee nation, you've embarrassed baseball.' And then, when the $6 million thing came up, that was gasoline on the fire."

Let me elaborate: Rodriguez was suspended for the 2014 season for using banned performance-enhancing drugs. He had 655 home runs going into Wednesday night's game against the Orioles. That's within five of Willie Mays' 660, fourth on the all-time home run list. If A-Rod reaches that milestone, he's supposed to get a $6 million bonus, on top of the 10-year, $275 million deal he struck with the Yankees in 2007, which was on top of all the other millions he previously made with the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.

So with the big, wealthy cheater returning to the game and chasing a record held by one of baseball's saints — while insisting on the Mays bonus — you can understand why Rowe would stand on principle and protest.

And I'm with him and all the other baseball fans who boo and jeer when A-Rod comes to bat. Ladies and gentlemen, if you can't feel moral indignation about a gifted athlete who cheats at a game for which he is fabulously compensated, then nothing in the lovely world of sports will get you off your duff.

The only thing is, if you stand and turn your back, you might miss Rodriguez striking out — or grounding out, as he did Tuesday night, as a last-ditch pinch hitter in a game the Orioles won, 4-3.

Some people, especially New Yorkers, scoff at the moralizing over Rodriguez. Over the years, many players used banned substances to get an edge, they say, and they might bring up former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro. One of but a few players to record 3,000 hits and more than 500 home runs in a major league career, Palmeiro once violated the league's anti-drug policy, though he has always insisted that he did not do so on purpose. "It's the honest-to-God truth," he told The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly.

I sound like a homer when I say I tend to believe Palmeiro's story — that a steroid got into his system when he took a tainted B-12 supplement from a teammate. But I think my view was influenced by what I saw of Palmeiro when he played here. He was no showboat; he was a steady, solid slugger and accomplished first baseman. From a distance, he certainly seemed modest and serious about his craft in the classic Oriole style, reminiscent of the quiet excellence of Eddie Murray.

Or Nick Markakis, whom I greatly miss, who never embarrassed us, who seemed to embody the Oriole Way that longtime fans see in revival.

Or Miguel Gonzalez, who had 10 strikeouts in Tuesday night's win.

I realize that it's just baseball, just a game, an entertainment. Genuine outrage ought to be reserved for real-world things that matter — children going to bed hungry, companies that don't pay their workers a living wage, the corporate money that co-opts the political system, people being profiled and brutalized, government surveillance of its citizens, dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay ... the big stuff.

But when it comes to baseball, and players trying to get an edge with drugs, I think you get to draw a line and stand on it, as Rowe did Monday night in Baltimore. You can shove past the cynics and declare your outrage. It's OK. You needn't be self-conscious. How else will the likes of the shameless A-Rod, insulated by his millions, know we disapprove?

Somewhere along the way, I heard a philosopher say a culture is defined by what it will not allow. That's a foundation principle of constitutional government, a society based on laws. And there are a whole set of laws, written and unwritten, that define who we are — as parents, teachers, citizens, even as athletes.

One of those laws says you don't cheat to get an edge, especially in the American game, the one place where the lines are straight and the rules are clear. If you do, then you deserve what comes, as it came in "Henry V" to the Duke of Bourbon: "Shame and eternal shame, nothing but shame."

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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