Whoa, jeez, what’s with that inflammatory headline? It must be summer, by golly, and with all the humidity and fatigue and dearth of sports, those wily sportswriters are whipping up hot takes. And, well, yes. But I would contend that this take is also … correct. That it is one you will agree with. Grab a cool washcloth, pal, and let’s take a ride.
First, though, we’ll need to take a step back. Here’s a little something that we in the biz like to call a #TBT:
Man! Remember that? A-Rod to Miami; A-Rod to first base; A-Rod to mediocrity; A-Rod to uncertainty. It’s been less than a year since this was posited as a credible solution to the Marlins’ 2016 struggles, and the most outlandish part of it now is that it didn’t seem particularly outlandish at the time.
Here’s a — and stay with me here; keep your hands, arms, and legs inside the jargon train at all times — way-back Wednesday:
Don’t you remember those days, back when Alex Rodriguez was always raising the collective American blood pressure? He was feeding (??????) Cameron Diaz. He was canoodling with Madonna. He was preening on rocks. He was flirting during games and yes, OK, he was getting some injections. Then he was on the Yankees and he was sucking, just absolute trash-baseball-ing, which is, as we all know, illegal for any Yankee and punishable by immediate exposure to the waters of the East River.
In the end, A-Rod did in fact go to Miami, though quite a bit later than last year’s reports had him slated to. Here’s what he did there:
That’s Rodriguez, now 11 months removed from his last Major League at-bat and already firmly ensconced as a Fox Sports analyst, making fun of himself and strolling across the field at last week’s All-Star Game to interview players. (There are no rules during the All-Star Game, per Unwritten Rule no. 982,731,868,176.) And you know what? It was glorious.
Gone is “The Man Baseball Loves to Hate”; post-retirement A-Rod is a centaur of a different color. New cast member of Shark Tank? You bet. Avid news consumer? Sure. Prospective owner (and counter-Jeter/Jeb/Jeber bidder) of the Marlins? Maybe! Sexual educator? Possibly?
And then, yes, there’s Jennifer Lopez. Together they are A.Lo, J-Rod, America’s loveliest 40-something sweethearts. They “take their love out to lunch.” Look at these freaking people! No, seriously, look at them. They do karaoke and have not yet responded to my adoption-request form but I remain hopeful.
Meanwhile, A-Rod is not just heading up minor gimmicks at the All-Star Game. He has dazzled as a commentator, apparently discovering that the booth, unlike the teammates and fans of yore, welcomes both his relentless baseball wonkery and his perpetual Hollywood sheen. And he has made little secret of his intentions: He wants to be the one to lead baseball into the future.
Last week, A-Rod published a four-point plan for “a better, more fan-friendly MLB” in the New York Post, in which he offered suggestions for how to appeal to the elusive demographic of Not Geriatric Man. The suggestions — more instances of unscripted player moments, regular discount days, etc. — were weird and interesting and exciting. And though the old A-Rod was not exactly known for his humility, let’s go ahead and assume that the new A-Rod was just too bashful to list the obvious point no. 5: Make him the commissioner of baseball.
With all due respect to current commish Rob Manfred, whose pitch clocks are very nice and whose anxiety about the length of baseball games does at least seem to come from a sincere and extremely stressed-out place, it’s time to hand over the reins.
Big Baseball has made little effort to disguise its terror about the future. The problem is less profitability than relevance, a point that Rodriguez makes: He notes that while league revenue has skyrocketed and attendance is still relatively high, the days in which the game might fairly be described as “America’s pastime” are long gone. The complaints of baseball’s detractors can largely be boiled down to boring, boring, boring, long, and boring, a problem Manfred’s MLB has attempted to solve chiefly by trying to squeeze seconds out of games and an unstoppable horde of mandatory Game of Thrones theme nights.
But you can’t win back fans who were never there. For that, you need star power. You need gimmicks. You need glamour. You need handsome, luxuriously upholstered executive offices. You need someone pensive and baseball-minded and also silly and splashy. You need someone like A-Rod.
And really: His suggestions — which include pregame hot cameras in the dugouts and bullpens, along with within-game player and coach microphones — are intriguing. They sound, basically, like extensions of some of the more transcendent moments of the 2017 All-Star Game: A-Rod’s cross-infield meander and Bryce Harper and George Springer’s in-game — like, literally mid-outfield, mid-at-bat — commentary. Those things were strange and surprising and distinctly un-baseball, and they appear to be of a kind with what Rodriguez has in mind. They were fun.
So just think about it, Big Baseball. Jennifer Lopez: first lady of the bigs. A-Rod: besuited, grinning, omnipresent. Bat flips: many. The youngs: entertained.