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Performance Anxiety

Excepting A-Rod, why should anyone care about a new bio of the controversial slugger?

Book Cover Alex Rodriguez stopped being interesting to me about the time he went from the Seattle Mariners—where he played with Junior Griffey—to Texas, where he was handed 200 million dollars to play baseball. Come to think of it, major-league baseball became much less interesting to me at about the same time, but that’s another matter.

Selena Roberts, former New York Times and current Sports Illustrated writer, has apparently maintained a fascination with A-Rod (also referred to by his detractors as “A-Fraud” for his admitted use of performance-enhancing substances) and has cobbled together A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez (Harper) from her exposé of Rodriguez’s use of performance enhancers to capture, as her publicist hyperbolizes, “baseball’s greatest player as a tragic figure in pinstripes.” Which tragically bends the notion of tragedy, as I know it.

These kinds of books tend toward the polarities of hagiography or hatchetry that—no surprise—mirrors the win-lose scoring of sports. I did attend to the recent Manny Ramirez study (Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg), which was a thoughtful and nuanced analysis of another man-child who had been handed hundreds of millions of dollars to play baseball. In Ramirez’s case, the carping in Boston about his paycheck continued almost unabated despite the schizoid BoSox winning their first two world championships in nearly a century during his tenure.

For publicity magnets, Rodriguez has the New York media echo chamber, Madonna, and other attention stuff going for him, and Roberts’s book assumes we care about this major-league narcissist—but it might be a better book if it suggested why we should. You can thank Drew Magary for that, who collected some of the most illuminating tidbits to be found in Roberts’s tome.
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