Special to The New York Daily Postday
Now, there's really no excuse.
Monday's news that Pope Benedict XVI will be stepping down for health reasons provides Alex Rodriguez with the perfect example of self-sacrifice in the face of adversity. The Pontiff, with years to go on a lifetime deal, walks away from a gig far greater than that of "part-time Yankee third baseman," putting the Catholic Church ahead of his own ego.
If the Pope, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, can walk away, then so can A-Rod, the disgraced and despised roider at the center of the Biogenesis scandal. Perhaps in doing so, A-Roid can regain a fraction of the respect and dignity he has sacrificed at the point of a needle.
Sources in the Yankees' front office who are unauthorized to speak on the record backed the idea. "If this doesn't point the way, I don't know what will. I mean, the Church isn't the Yankees, but it's close enough. And Pope Benedict has more mobility right now than A-Rod does."
"I mean, there are ways to raise the heat. We could play 'Ave Maria' in the clubhouse. Maybe bring back Chad Curtis. But it's up to him."
Rodriguez has been under enormous pressure to leave the game over the past month. On the heels of a humiliating postseason in which he single-handedly torpedoed the Yankee offense in an ALCS sweep at the hands of the Tigers, Rodriguez underwent a left hip arthroscopy last month. He is, at best, expected to miss half the season and could miss all of it. The Yankees have signed Kevin Youkilis to play third base while A-Rod recovers, meaning they're spending $40 million on aging third basemen this year, all in the name of the most unpopular baseball player since A-Rod's fellow cheater Barry Bonds retired.
A source close to A-Rod dismissed the idea. "Alex wants to get healthy and get back on the field, to earn both the money he's owed and the respect of Yankee fans everywhere."
That's small-minded and weak. Neither Yankee fans nor the Yankee front office nor MLB wants to see Alex Rodriguez don pinstripes again. Pope Benedict XVI was as beloved as A-Rod is despised, and he still found it within himself to set ego aside and resign.
It will, as so many things with cheating ballplayers do, come down to money. Rodriguez is owed $114 million for the five years remaining on his contract, and, unlike Benedict, he hasn't taken a vow of poverty.
Then again, what A-Rod could do would be, in many ways, greater than what Pope Benedict did. After all, Pope Benedict is backed by a deep bench of Cardinals and a Church with both an unlimited budget and no luxury-tax concerns. The Yankees are hamstrung by their desire to get under the tax threshold for 2014, a move that would save the Steinbrenner brothers millions in tax penalties for years after that.
This isn't really about money, though. Pope Benedict has lit the way for Rodriguez to regain his good name. If he were to come clean about his steroid use, cite his bad hips and his desire to leave the record books unsullied by his tainted numbers, and walk away now, Rodriguez might regain a measure of the respect he's lost over the past five years. He'll always be a cheater to some, but to others, a move like this might be enough to reconsider his career by the time his name comes up for the Hall of Fame five years down the road.
It's your move, Alex.