New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is apparently on a one man mission to prop up the ailing newspaper industry.
The tabloid back pages love his home runs. The business pages drool over the 10-year $275 million salary the Yankees are paying him. The front pages blare details of his steroid use. The gossip pages can't believe that this guy was benevolent enough to be seen canoodling with Madonna.
A-Rod gives and gives, and he's given Selena Roberts material for an entire book. A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez is an attempt at a biography. As a reporter for The New York Times and now Sports illustrated, Roberts has proved to be one of Rodriguez's most dogged chroniclers.
But, Roberts herself has been dogged by critics, who say she was quick to play judge and jury in the Duke University lacrosse players' rape case, where she penned columns that fell apart in light of evidence that the players in question committed no crime.
Yes, Roberts says, she was diagnosing the "culture of entitlement" so prevalent among college athletes, but there are better teaching moments to be found than in the case of the falsely accused.
Roberts has been faulted, even by her former colleagues, for relying on anonymous sources in compiling the two main charges she levels at A-Rod.
One is the accusation that he took performance-enhancing drugs, which A-Rod wound up admitting to after Roberts' revelations ran in Sports Illustrated. In her book, Roberts alleges that Rodriguez also took steroids in high school, which he denies.
Her other big scoop concerned tip-pitching, or informing opponents what pitches were on their way in late innings of blow-out games. I cannot quite square why the pitch-tipping scoop is seen as ill-gotten and inaccurate, when her steroid scoop — also entirely based on anonymous sources — was picked up by every news outlet this side of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, and ultimately confirmed by A-Rod himself.
If your idea of a good time is hearing Roberts herself offering lengthy defenses to these and far stupider charges, watch her interviews on Deadspin.com, WFAN and with Bob Costas on the MLB Web site.
Not only have Roberts' methods been questioned, but so have her motives. It has been speculated that she "does not understand men that well," while at he same time, she has been told by WFAN radio host Craig Carton, that she "might personally have feelings for A-Rod."
If you think those charges are bad, or at least contradictory, I recommend you avoid the message boards of blogs, where Roberts has been pilloried in a way that's pretty indecent, even by the Augean stable standards of the message boards of blogs.
So Roberts has had to deal with a few brushback pitches.
OK, as she says, she's a big girl and she knows the score. But all the unfair criticism obscures her book's failure to deliver the goods. The problem isn't Roberts' journalistic missteps or pernicious motives, but the subject himself: A-Rod is not exactly an onion to be peeled.
It's tempting to treat him as a melon to be thumped. Without real access to the people closest to him, Roberts too often gives in to pop psychoanalysis. When A-Rod is in a slump, the tabloid attention is said to be "a distraction." When he's going well, the media circus "seemed to sharpen his focus. He liked the cat and mouse with the papers. He liked being all over the tabloids," she writes.
Rodriguez likes to spend time in Las Vegas. It is, after all, one of the most popular tourist destinations in America. But to Roberts, this reveals character: "Alex loved Vegas in all its decadence, with its fake facades and phony flair."
The theme of phoniness also pops up in an examination of Rodriguez's real estate holdings. Some of the condo units owned by the richest player in baseball are run down. Roberts interviewed residents and noted piles of dirty mattresses lying by a dumpster. I wondered if these mattresses had not been picked up since 2007 when Roberts first reported their existence in an article in the Times.
That she uses the same interviews in a book published in 2009 speaks to the dearth of evidence she could uncover that would justify this project being a bona fide biography. The reading into small statements to draw grand conclusions and the example after example proving that Rodriguez is essentially a very shallow person all drew me to the same conclusion: The information Roberts uncovered is fine. It just yearns to be two or three interesting articles in Sports Illustrated not almost 250 pages of a "so what?" biography.