“I don’t give a shit about A-Rod,” one Red Sox fan told me Tuesday night. We were seated at a bar across the street from Fenway Park, waiting for the Yankees great to begin the last week of his career. “I don’t hate him, but his numbers aren’t legitimate,” he said, referencing Alex Rodriguez’s suspension for performance enhancing drugs.
What about hometown hero David Ortiz, who’s beem accused of the same?
“Did Big Papi do steroids? I don’t know, probably,” he replied. “But not his whole career like A-Rod.”
Last Sunday, seemingly out of nowhere, the Yankees announced that this would be A-Rod’s final week as a baseball player. That only left four games, three of which, as luck would have it, would be hosted at Fenway Park.
I spent the night of A-Rod’s third-to-last game asking Sox fans about their least favorite memories of the man. There was, as tends to be the case in Boston, an undercurrent of jealousy to the spite, because there was a time when it seemed like he might actually be ours. But then, following the Red Sox’s loss to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, the potential trade fell apart.
“It was a feeling he generated here,” one friend said. “He made us feel inferior to New York, as if we needed another reason.”
“His amazing athletic abilities, coupled with his playing for a team I root against was, generally frustrating,” another admitted.
Fenway Park, home to the Yankees’ biggest rival, is also the site of some of A-Rod’s most deplorable moments—at least in Sox fans’ eyes.
In 2013, Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster was determined to plunk Rodriguez, who was in the middle of appealing his 211-game suspension, later reduced to a mere 162, for the use of performance enhancing drugs. After narrowly missing him at the knees, Dempster finally found the mark in the meat of his well-muscled back, resulting in riotous cheers from the crowd. A-Rod would have the last laugh that night, however, finishing with three hits, including a home run to spark a Yankees win.
There was also, of course, A Rod’s two home runs in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, both of which were tossed back onto the field in disgust. (The Yankees would go on to lose that game, and the next three, making the Red Sox the first—and still the only team in baseball history—to come from behind in a 0-3 deficit in a series.)
That may or may not have been retaliation for the most hate-able moment of A Rod’s rivalry with the Sox, which happened earlier that year. Bronson Arroyo had blasted him with a pitch that he understandably took umbrage with. One thing led to another, and catcher Jason Varitek shoved A-Rod in the face, leading to a bench-clearing brawl.
With so many distasteful memories to draw upon, you might have expected some excitement leading up to A-Rod’s last-ever appearances at Fenway. When his retirement was announced on Sunday, Girardi said at the time “If he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way.”
And yet by Tuesday night, Girardi said A-Rod would not be in the lineup until Thursday. “My job description does not entail farewell tours,” he said. “My job description is to try to win every game and to try to put everyone in the best possible position to do that. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Not only that, A-Rod would not be honored at Fenway, as had been done for fellow Yankees Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera when they retired. “There will be nothing approximating that for Rodriguez, team officials said,” as the Boston Globe reported. “If there is a public acknowledgment of his leaving the game, it will be brief.”
As for Rodriguez, he said, “I came to the stadium hoping to play all three games, maybe two out of three,” but he wasn’t getting that opportunity. He also said he expected Sox fans to have a last chance to give him one big long boo.
But would they?
It was looking doubtful: Few people I spoke with seemed to much care. Most barely seemed to register that A-Rod was in town for the last time. It was sad, in a way, like losing an old rival but forgetting what made you dislike him so much in the first place.
It wasn’t that big a deal, one fan named Ben said. “I’ve always respected good baseball players, and he was always a good one. You obviously hate him because of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry or whatever. He might be a cock bag, but he’s obviously talented.”
With so many distasteful memories to draw upon, you might have expected some excitement leading up to A-Rod’s last-ever appearances at Fenway.
Apparently, the Yankees-Sox rivalry isn’t as big as it used to be: Three scalpers who skittered around Fenway all said tickets to the games weren’t selling. One offered a bleacher seat for $80 to a man who talked him down to $60.
Down the street, a man holding a broom and a sign that read “Yankees Suck, Spare a Buck,” was keeping the flame of hatred alive anyway. “I fucking hate him,” he said of A-Rod. “I hope somebody beats his head in with a baseball bat. I fucking can’t stand none of the Yankees. Yankees fucking suck.” The broom, he said, “is for sweeping the fucking shit off the sidewalks. The Yankees are polluting our streets.”
Further up the road, a man named Bob, who held a billboard declaring that sinners were bound for hell, paused from his sermonizing to talk about whether A-Rod was destined for the eternal inferno. “As long as he isn’t on steroids—he isn’t now, but I think he was before. It’s not right, because people like Henry Aaron, they didn’t take steroids. It’s not fair to the other people. It’s not right.”
A Yankees fan named Jennifer said, “He’s not my favorite player, but he’s on my team, so I’m going to support him. If he comes in tonight, he’s going to get booed, absolutely. I’d be tempted to boo him myself.”
A while later, I paused at the top of Lansdowne Street in my Red Sox t-shirt, to take a picture of the sun setting over Fenway. A car full of dudes drove by. “Go Yankees, fucker!” one of them yelled. There it is, I thought. A dose of the good stuff.
On Wednesday night A-Rod would finally make it into the game. He was called on to pinch hit in the 7th inning, after another round of “WE WANT A-ROD!” chants from the crowd. At one point, the broadcast zoomed in on a fan holding up an oversized picture of Varitek pushing in A-Rod’s face.
After working into a 2-1 count, he connected with the ball, launching it into right field, approaching the wall before falling short, where it was easily caught. The crowd, at long last, erupted in boos. All was right in the world.