I didn't see this coming: I'm sitting down to write a piece defending Alex Rodriguez.
While the Lords of Baseball (and certainly the New York Yankees) wish A-Rod would just go away, the boneheads of Boston have managed to render him at least a mildly sympathetic figure.
Numerous members of the Red Sox issued public complaints about Rodriguez' continued presence in the Yankees lineup while he appeals MLB's 211-game suspension. Bad enough, since every last one of the complainers is also a beneficiary of the same Basic Agreement that affords Rodriguez the right to appeal his suspension.
But then pitcher Ryan Dempster decided to play target practice with Rodriguez, with a full house at Fenway roaring its approval. That it took four pitches for Dempster to finally hit Rodriguez says volumes about a guy in the twilight of a mediocre career. Angry Yankees manager Joe Girardi noted that Dempster doesn't hit many batters; maybe it's because he's usually walking them (an average of 4 per 9 innings throughout his career).
Rodriguez wasn't hurt and he gained his retribution later in the game with an emphatic home run in a Yankees comeback win. I'm not here to scold Dempster for the mere act of throwing at an opposing hitter. Baseball has long existed with a delicate balance on this issue, though it has been twisted in the American League, where the designated hitter rule frees pitchers from facing their own music.
No, the bigger problem here is this: Dempster (and one must assume the Red Sox were in on the deal) took an off-the-field issue onto the field. There's a process in place: MLB investigated Rodriguez' dealings with the tainted Biogenesis clinic, handed down its punishment, and A-Rod appealed. Everything by the book.
Until the Beantown Vigilante Committee decided to get involved. What next? A player's outspoken comments on a political matter make him a target of a harder-than-necessary slide at second base? Or an anti-DUI crusader decides to "make things right" by spiking a player busted for drunk driving?
What Dempster did crosses a very dangerous line. It's of course ironic that a player would decide to mete out rough justice to another player simply for exercising the rights guaranteed to every player facing MLB discipline.
And it's just plain bizarre than the master of the Just Plain Bizarre, A-Rod, would be the sympathetic figure in all this.