He has emerged as the most hated man in sports, one of the most hated people in all of America. He is a living, breathing, ballplaying piñata — the Prince of Loathe.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez says he doesn’t know why he inspires such animosity.
“It gets old,’’ Rodriguez said from the visitors dugout at Fenway Park before the Yankees hammered the Red Sox, 10-3, in Friday night’s series opener. But not too old for Fenway fans, who booed Rodriguez lustily.
Why does he think this happens to him?
“I have no idea why.’’
He said it with a straight face. He said it without blinking, blushing, or smirking. Alex Rodriguez has the theatrical chops of Nick Cage and Ryan Gosling. He can make you believe that he is either the most unfairly persecuted celebrity of all time or . . . the biggest fraud who ever lived.
Most folks today believe the latter, especially when we hear that “60 Minutes” is set to air a report that will reportedly establish that — in addition to being a liar and a cheat — Rodriguez is also a rat. Across the land, that makes him the worst of the worst. The lowest of the low.
“60 Minutes” is said to have evidence that A-Rod identified fellow ballplayers (including teammate Francisco Cervelli) as PED cheats when reports surfaced that Rodriguez was once again up to his eyeballs in steroids. According to “60 Minutes,” Rodriguez started singing about other players as soon as he found out he was going to be named in the Biogenesis scandal.
“It’s not true,’’ Rodriguez said Friday. “I’ve spoken with Cervelli. It was a positive conversation. He understands it’s not true. . . . He’s like my brother.’’
A-Rod’s denials do nothing to calm the storm. He is the center of attention everywhere he goes. Bob Costas and the MLB Network were at Fenway Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, it’ll be the Fox Network. And then we have ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”
The Worldwide Leader is promoting Sunday’s game with video of A-Rod and a movie trailer-like voiceover: “This is Alex Rodriguez. He’s got more home runs than any active player, three MVPs, and the longest suspension ever looming over his head. He’s A-Rod, he’s the lightning rod, and he’s about to take the stage.’’
In other words, “Ladies and gentleman, come into the tent and see the bearded lady.’’
It is indeed a circus, complete with network-sponsored carnival barkers.
Already caught cheating once (remember when he lied to Katie Couric?), A-Rod is facing a 211-game suspension for his activities with the anti-aging lab in Florida. Twelve players accepted 50-game suspensions, but Rodriguez has chosen to appeal his penalty. This allows him to play while the process unfolds, and some folks take issue, including Sox pitcher John Lackey, who said on Thursday, “I’ve got a problem with it. You bet I do. How is he still playing?’’
A-Rod was once coveted by Sox management, but a proposed trade in 2003 was vetoed by Major League Baseball because the Sox wanted to restructure Rodriguez’s salary. The big trade botched, the Sox went out and won their first World Series in 86 years, silencing A-Rod and the Yankees in the greatest collapse in postseason history.
Remember A-Rod slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove in a critical Game 6 play during that series while the Yankees trailed, 4-2, in the eighth? And who could forget when captain Jason Varitek manhandled A-Rod during a 2004 regular-season game at Fenway? The Sox trailed that game, 9-4, and won, 11-10, when Bill Mueller hit a two-run homer off the estimable Mariano Rivera in the ninth.
A-Rod was extremely chipper when first spotted in the Yankee clubhouse just before 4 p.m. Friday. I asked him how Boston was treating him thus far.
“Great,’’ he said. “Boston’s always good.’’
Did he go out to lunch Friday?
“Yes,’’ he said with a smile. “A place that used to be called Houston’s. I think it’s near Congress and State. Everybody was really nice.’’
Just after 4 p.m., he went through the runway, up the dugout stairs, then ran some sprints in left field while Sox infielders took grounders. When he came off the field, he chatted with New York Post columnist Kevin Kernan. He said he enjoyed a Kernan piece that noted some of the Yankee hitters seemed to be benefiting from his presence in the lineup.
Before ducking back into the dugout, Rodriguez signed a couple of baseballs for young fans from Pembroke and Plymouth.
“He was really nice,’’ said Margaret Heeran, mother of one of the youngsters.
Back in the Yankee clubhouse, players were asked how they felt about the reports of A-Rod the Rat. Rodriguez’s teammates were noncommittal and sometimes tepid. When veteran Vernon Wells was asked if the story changed his opinion of A-Rod, Wells said, “No, my opinion’s not going to change. I’m not saying what my opinion is, but it’s not going to change.”
In the cramped space in front of A-Rod’s locker near the clubhouse door, 32 reporters waited.
“I’ll talk in the dugout before we stretch,’’ said the erstwhile superstar.
And he did. And he was good.
“For the next seven weeks, it’s going to be a bumpy road,’’ he said. “It’s going to get worse every day.’’
Does it bother you?
“Absolutely. It’s frustrating. I’m a human being.’’
It reminded me of a scene from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” when Paul Newman (Butch) watches an old codger intentionally mislead a posse by telling the sheriff that Butch and Sundance just rode out of town.
“I swear,’’ says Butch, watching the trickery from a parlor above the street. “If he told me I left town 10 minutes ago, I’d believe him.’’
Sometimes liars repeat the lie so many times, it becomes their truth. Say this about A-Rod: He seems to have convinced himself he is a righteous guy. Denial is a powerful thing.
A-Rod came to bat in the top of the first inning, with two on and one out. The reception was everything we expected. Imagine Rick Pitino, Eric Mangini, Bernard Pollard, and P.K. Subban introduced to a Boston crowd, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Then double it.
When Rodriguez lined into a double play on a 2-and-2 pitch, the place went wild. He ended up going 2 for 4 with a walk, but he left three men on base.
Welcome to Boston, Alex. Have a nice weekend.