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A-Rod's Redemption Starts at 3,000 Hits

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Some day in the near future, Alex Rodriguez will join the 3,000-hit club. It's going to be interesting to see the reactions from Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees, especially compared with what happened the last time Rodriguez achieved a milestone. And also compared with the last guy who hit 3,000.

Rodriguez is just five hits away from joining a club with only 28 members. The most recent inductee, of course, was former Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, who hit the mark "with an exclamation point" back in 2011. That historic solo home run was followed by his teammates emptying the dugout and pouring onto the field, a standing ovation from the opposing Tampa Bay Rays dugout, a curtain call demanded by the Yankee Stadium crowd -- and a big hug from Rodriguez. The spectacle existed as much off the field, with a full-on media blitz uncharacteristic of the notoriously private captain, complete with official DJ3K memorabilia, a commemorative Movado watch and the HBO documentary "Derek Jeter 3K."

Don't expect the same kind of hoopla for Rodriguez,  judging by the league's tepid response to his tying Willie Mays on the all-time home run list in May. It wasn't just the lack of fanfare -- the Yankees actually refused to pay the $6 million incentive bonus in Rodriguez's contract, arguing that the slugger's milestones were no longer marketable after his season-long suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

As for hit 3,000, even under the best circumstances, you could never expect the same kind of red-carpet treatment as for Jeter, MLB's most marketable star for two decades. But if the Yankees' justification for denying Rodriguez his home run bonus was to condemn his marketability, let's see if that remains the case with his 3,000th hit -- a milestone that doesn't carry an incentive in his contract -- at a time when what's left of his marketability might be on the upswing. 

While the team and the league continue to treat Rodriguez as sports' greatest villain, some fans have actually forgiven him, even the notoriously hard-to-please Bronx faithful. When he hit his 661st home run last month, the Yankee Stadium crowd cheered for a curtain call from him, too. Rodriguez has done everything right this season by keeping his head down, his mouth mostly shut, and his eye, literally, on the ball. Perhaps he's benefiting from no longer playing under Jeter's shadow, but Rodriguez has placed himself on the path to redemption, hitting .268 with 12 homers, and 32 runs batted in. He's leading all designated hitters in homers, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, though you wouldn't necessarily know it by his All-Star vote tally.

Even if the rest of the country has yet to embrace Rodriguez's comeback, the Yankees and the league should ease their stance on him as his local fans have. The 3,000-hit mark is seen by some as a somewhat cleaner, less juice-fueled milestone than the home-run mark. And while the home-run record has long been associated with legendary Yankee sluggers, the pinstriped presence in the 3,000-hit club only started with Jeter. It's a relatively new milestone in a ballclub steeped in tradition, and the inclusion of Rodriguez stands less chance of offending older fans.

Don't expect a commemorative A-Rod3K watch anytime soon. But if the Yankees and MLB are smart, they'll stop being petty when it comes to Rodriguez's uncelebrated milestones. He did his time -- now let him have his curtain call.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net