Awkward Personified comes to Fenway this weekend.
Alex Rodriguez — the one you’ve despised all these years — makes his return to Boston for a three-game series starting Friday night, and A-Rod has a shot to tie Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home runs list.
Rodriguez has 659 career homers. Mays hit 660. There are no words to express how wrong this feels.
What do you think, Dr. Charles Steinberg? Are the Red Sox going to feature a video montage of A-Rod’s greatest moments as he rounds the bases to the tune of “Times of Your Life’’ after tying the Say Hey Kid? Perhaps the Sox’ well-known choreographer could produce Terry Cashman singing, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.’’
And what are Fenway fans to do? Other than boo?
Suppose you have Green Monster seats and A-Rod plants No. 660 into the first row, and you suddenly are holding the tainted baseball that puts A-Rod on a level with the greatest living ballplayer? What to do? Do you fire it down at Hanley Ramirez and let him toss it toward the Yankee dugout? Do you flip it, with disdain, over your shoulder onto Lansdowne Street? Do you hold A-Rod and the ball hostage? Use it for an exorcism?
Baseball is all about sacred numbers. Home runs are most sacred. That’s why it hurts to see cheatin’ Barry Bonds at the top of the home run list. Bonds is followed by Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Mays — three guys we love. But now lyin’, cheatin’ A-Rod is chiseling his pretty face onto the side of Mount Batlantis, and security has been called.
A Sox official promised “nothing dramatic, nothing celebratory” if Rodriguez ties or tops Mays at Fenway. “Between zero and a very low reaction,” was proposed.
Perhaps the Sox will simply list the top five home run hitters on the big board, with the updated version demonstrating Rodriguez’s place in the pantheon.
The Yankees won’t be bringing any champagne or authenticating tools to Boston. They have distanced themselves from their controversial slugger in dramatic fashion. Some of this is conscience. Some of it is embarrassment. Most of it is cold, hard cash.
A-Rod has a clause in his contract (he’s guaranteed $61 million through 2017) that calls for him to be paid a $6 million bonus every time he matches one of the home run gods.
The Yankees are going to try to weasel out of this payment because they claim it is a “marketing bonus,” and they are unable to market these records because it has been proven that Rodriguez cheated his way to the top. This is why the ballclub has conspicuously avoided all mention of Rodriguez’s home run climb in the early part of this season.
It's actually been quite hilarious. In Yankee public relations literature, A-Rod’s chase of Mays is the Milestone That Must Not Be Named.
It’s been a treat to read the Yankee press notes. They'll mention milestones like Stephen Drew’s 100th career homer or Dellin Betances’s 100th career inning, but nothing about one of the most revered numbers in the history of the game.
Manager Joe Girardi said this week, “There’s going to be a lot of different opinions on this 660 and when he passes Willie. Barry went through it. The reality is, it’s 660 home runs. I don’t know what you say, but when you look in the record books, his name is going to be there.’’
Exactly. That’s what bothers folks so much. Especially here in Boston, where Rodriguez has been a pariah since he joined the Yankees in 2004. The photo of Jason Varitek stuffing his mitt into the face of A-Rod in July 2004 adorns thousands of bars and dens across New England, and nobody will forget when Rodriguez slapped the baseball out of Bronson Arroyo’s hands in a cheap stunt in the 2004 playoffs. It’s also hard to forget the night Sox fans behind the third base dugout taunted A-Rod while wearing Madonna masks.
Now he returns to Fenway after a one-year suspension from the Biogenesis scandal, and he has been one of the Yankees’ best players, hitting five homers and knocking in 13 runs for the first-place Bronx Bombers (though he had one of the worst games of his career Wednesday, going 0 for 6 with four strikeouts against the Rays).
He has a few allies in the Yankee clubhouse, including ace lefty CC Sabathia, Friday’s starter. Rodriguez has been a team guy since coming back from his latest disgrace and got brownie points for tutoring Didi Gregorius at shortstop three hours before Tuesday’s game against the Rays.
But “baseball’s most beloved ballpark” is Unfriendly Fenway for A-Rod. Rodriguez’s last ounce of support in Boston once came from David Ortiz, but Big Papi turned his back on A-Rod after Rodriguez’s agent tried to throw Ortiz under the PED bus last year.
Former Sox lefty Andrew Miller, now a Yankee closer, told the New York Times, “I think his reception will probably be more notable than mine.”
Rodriguez stands alone at Fenway this weekend, and there will be no mercy if he ties or passes Willie Mays here.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.