Alex Rodriguez has always had an image problem. In his zeal to be likable, he has often been perceived as unlikeable. He could have gone the Derek Jeter route by saying nothing remarkable, being bland, and letting his on-the-field excellence speak for him.
But A-Rod always seemed to be seeking something more. His chumminess and his desire to be loved came across as so insincere that he turned off a generation of baseball fans. Despite being a dominant shortstop/third baseman, he never achieved the popularity of Cal Ripken Jr. or Jeter. Instead, he was the avatar of suspected performance-enhancing drug use and was once the most hated person in baseball.
Rodriguez retired in 2016 but still appears to be longing for acceptance. That’s likely the reason behind last month’s news that Rodriguez, 47, is reportedly pitching a documentary on his life and career. Andrew Marchand of The New York Post wrote that Rodriguez is collaborating with Religion of Sports’ Gotham Chopra on the project.
We live in an age when athletes want to control narratives by telling their stories the way they want them to be told. You can blame/attribute that to Michael Jordan. Call it The Last Dance effect.
The best documentaries happen when the subject is honest and vulnerable. It’s an uncomfortable position. Many of us would not like our lives to be put under a microscope. Unfortunately, most athlete documentaries only give you a glimpse of what they want you to see. The access is limited, and the environment is controlled. Rodriguez is in a unique position because there’s little risk to his image. The majority has already made up its minds about him.
Judging by Rodriguez’s work as a TV analyst, he is capable of giving us more. The question is, will he? It’s one thing to talk about the nuances of hitting. It’s another to delve into past troubles.
You could be cynical and joke that there has already been an A-Rod documentary. Miami-based filmmaker Billy Corben’s excellent and entertaining Screwball (2018) chronicled the Biogenesis steroid scandal, which led to the suspension of Rodriguez. But there is a lot to unpack in Rodriguez’s controversial American success story.
There has never been a sports figure like him. Prosperous, talented, and yet the subject of mockery. So many enjoyed poking fun at Rodriguez, who made it all too easy with his excuses, denials, half-truths, and untruths. There must be so many sliding door scenarios he replays in his head:
- What if he never left the Seattle Mariners?
- What if he never went to the Texas Rangers?
- What if he handled his relationship with Jeter better, especially when they were teammates with the New York Yankees?
- What if he never became entangled in the Biogenesis scandal?
Those are just some of the choices that affected his image. Those decisions made him baseball’s highest-paid player, a three-time MVP, and a champion with the Yankees. Still, he never received the kind of adulation that someone of his stature usually gets. He was an anti-hero we loved to root against.
A revealing documentary would be Rodriguez’s chance to explain why he made certain choices and also the origin of his compulsion to be liked. Those have never been fully revealed. We could play amateur shrink and theorize that much of his behavior might have something to do with his complicated relationship with his father who left his family when Alex was 9 years old.
After retirement, Rodriguez has worked to reinvent himself. He has garnered some goodwill as a broadcast personality. From that experience, he has presumably learned the value of being authentic.
An A-Rod documentary might not change people’s minds. But by being honest and vulnerable, he might get closer to accomplishing his lifelong goal of being viewed as likable.