Alex Rodriguez comes to town with the Yankees tomorrow, his first visit to his favorite road city since admitting in spring training, all of his own volition, that he had used steroids. Well, the fact that Sports Illustrated had the goods on him just might have had a little teeny something to do with his confession, I suppose. As you recall, A-Rod claimed he used steroids because of the pressure he felt after signing with the Rangers for $254 million.
“When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure,” Rodriguez told ESPN’s Peter Gammons. “I felt that I had all the weight of the world on top of me to perform, and perform at a high level every day.
“Overall, I felt a tremendous pressure to play, and play really well. I had just signed this enormous contract, [and] I felt like I needed something, a push, without overinvestigating what I was taking, to get me to the next level.”
I’m sure that Mariners fans will greet A-Rod with the respect and decorum to which he’s become accustomed each and every time he returns to Safeco Field. That is to say, rampant and unfettered ridicule.
But today, I want to envision an alternate universe….
Let’s go back to Oct. 8, 1995, which many Mariners’ fans still consider the greatest day in team history. Let’s go back to the bottom of the 11th inning, Ken Griffey Jr. on first, Joey Cora on third, Edgar Martinez at the plate, Jack McDowell on the mound, Yankees leading, 5-4.
Let’s turn the floor over to Dave Niehaus:
“Right now, the Mariners are looking for the tie. They would take a fly ball. They would love a base hit into the gap and they could win it with Junior’s speed. The stretch and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martinez and swung on and lined down the left-field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey, here is Junior to third base. THEY’REGOINGTOWAVEHIMIN! The throw to the plate will be late! The Mariners are going to play for the AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! I dooooon’t beeeeelieve it! It just continues. My ohhhhhhh my!”
Sam Perlozzo, the Mariners’ third-base coach that year, used to have a classic spiel he’d use during public appearances, joking dead-pan that Niehaus blew the call.
“They’re going to wave him in? They?” he’d say. “No, Dave. Sammy’s going to wave him in.”
But what if Sammy had held Griffey at third? It was conceivable — the Yankees’ relay looked pretty crisp, and who wants to be known as the guy that ran the Mariners out of a chance to win the biggest game in club history? Perlozzo has always said that nothing short of a tranquilizer gun was going to stop Griffey from heading home, but humor me here. Let’s imagine Griffey stopping at third. That leaves runners on second and third, tie score, and stepping up to the plate…20-year-old Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was all promise and sunshine in those days, remember. He had been up and down from the minors that season, hitting just .232, but fans (and media) were already starting to fall in love with what seemed to be a fresh, wholesome kid with a winning personality and an unlimited future.
Maybe Lou Piniella would have thought about pinch-hitting in that situation, but he had already emptied his bench in the course of 11 innings. A-Rod would have batted, I’m convinced. And let’s say he bangs a game-winning base hit, or, dare we say it, hits a home run. We would soon have it confirmed that Rodriguez had Hall of Fame talent, when he hit .358 with 54 doubles the next year. So he had it in him.
In this parallel world, maybe Rodriguez becomes the Seattle icon. Maybe the Mariners, who had seriously contemplated trading Martinez that previous off-season because of money woes, deal him to the Yankees instead of Tino. No way they were going to trade Edgar after The Double (the game-winning double, that is). Maybe A-Rod feels so much a part of the Mariners because of that moment that he can’t bring himself to leave when he becomes a free agent in 2001, and signs a long-term extension. So he never feels the pressure to prove himself to a new fan base, and doesn’t succumb to the temptations of steroids. He wouldn’t have had to endure all those unhappy years in New York, where he never could do quite enough to win the Yankee fans’ hearts. He never would have met Madonna, would have stayed out of the tabloids.
He would be nearing the home-run record with a clean reputation, beloved by his Seattle fans and respected throughout baseball as a player who did it the right way. Maybe he would finish out his career with Seattle, one of the few superstars to stay with the same team his entire career — unlike Ken Griffey Jr., whom he would have surpassed as the ultimate Mariner icon. He’d get his own street outside of Safeco — Alex Rodriguez Drive — and go into the Hall of Fame with a Mariners’ cap.
All right, I admit, it’s a pipe dream. Remember, I labeled this a fantasy, and for good reason. My hunch is that even if A-Rod had been the Game 5 hero, Edgar would have remained as beloved as ever and still stayed here his entire career, and still gotten Edgar Martinez Drive. A-Rod probably still would have taken the money and ran, and the pressure in Texas still would have gotten the better of him. (That’s if you believe his story about pressure leading to his steroids use in the first place. Let’s just say many are skeptical). He still would have fled to New York, still would have found turmoil and tabloids in the Big Apple, and he still would be coming to Safeco Field tomorrow regarded by Mariner fans as the ultimate target.
But it’s fun to ponder, isn’t it?
(Seattle Times photo by Mark Harrison, 1997. Is it just me, or does it look like Jay Buhner is wearing an eye-patch?)