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After Serving Suspension, Is Alex Rodriguez Making A Comeback?

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Last night at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the seventh inning, New York was down by three to the Minnesota Twins. The bases were loaded, and Alex Rodriguez, hitless in his previous 18 at-bats, stepped up to the plate and smashed the ball over the right-center field fence. The Yankees won the game, and it was another chapter in the odd story of Alex Rodriguez's comeback season. Joel Sherman writes the baseball column for the New York Post and joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

JOEL SHERMAN: Thank you Robert.

SIEGEL: And take us back to before the beginning of this season when Alex Rodriguez was pushing 40. He'd just served a season-long suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, which he'd long denied. Is it fair to say that the Yankees' management really just wanted him to go away?

SHERMAN: Well, I think in their preference on multiple layers were that he'd go away. I think they were, A) concerned that he couldn't play baseball much anymore - he was 39, he had just had a second major hip surgery and he couldn't catch up to a fastball the last time we saw them, then there was the question of, you know, them feeling duped by him and still having three years and about $60-odd million left, and they'd loved to have gotten out of that money that they owed him. And plus they were worried about him becoming some kind of distraction where people were just interested in the TMZ part of the Alex Rodriguez affair. And so I think there was huge concerns on all of those levels, and as it turned out, he's actually been one of the big success stories for the Yankees.

SIEGEL: Yeah, talk about the season that he's had this year. We should say the Yankees, to the surprise of many, are in first place in the American League East.

SHERMAN: Yeah, and one of the reasons they're in first place in the American League East is, maybe Alex Rodriguez hasn't played like prime Alex Rodriguez but he certainly played like a primetime player. There's been a bunch of times where he's had these little mini slumps, and you thought, aha - here's the moment where he's done, his body is breaking down, he turned 40 in July. And instead, he's been a vital part of what's a greatly improved offense from the last two seasons. And he's also part of the fabric of leadership. I think even his greatest critics would agree that he's actually a baseball gym rat. He loves the game. And one of the things he likes best about it is working with young players and incorporating them into both the clubhouse life, the major league life, and feeding them with information. And so he's been an important part of the leadership fabric as well.

SIEGEL: Just one question about something. You mentioned Alex Rodriguez has many slumps and every time he goes into one, people think, aha - there it is, I knew he was finished. In 2006, you wrote, (reading) time to face facts - A-Rod simply doesn't have it.

Next year, he hits 52 home runs and steals 24 bases. What is it about this guy - immensely talented - that he seems to be done for and he just comes back?

SHERMAN: Well, at that time, I would suspect that one of the things that helped bring him back was also what brought him to a suspension. He defied time, as a lot of players in that era defied time, by not playing legally.

SIEGEL: You're saying performance-enhancing drugs?

SHERMAN: Yes. I mean, clearly, he was taking performance-enhancing drugs in 2010 and probably 2011 at the minimum, which probably helped him defy injury, recovery situations and age. But, you know, let's start with who he is. Alex Rodriguez was the first pick in the first round of a draft. I think anybody who did amateur scouting would tell you that in the last 40 years - if you skipped to somebody who's done amateur scouting in that period - there's maybe two or three players, the Ken Griffey Jrs., the Alex Rodriguezs, the Bryce Harpers, who stand out, that they would be the first pick in the last 40 years of drafts if you put everyone together. So unique athletes tend to be able to last longer and be better than others. So he's a very successful player now. I have two children. I wouldn't bet their lives or my lives that he's doing it clean, and, you know, let's hope he is. It's a greater story if he is. But he has kind of fooled us once already, and so the shame would be on me to believe him moving forward.

SIEGEL: Joel Sherman, of the New York Post and MLB Network Insider, thanks for talking with us.

SHERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.