- - Sunday, January 28, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Our culture these days has a pulse like a bumper car ride on the boardwalk — bouncing unpredictably without rhyme or reason.

Alex Rodriguez was a pariah just minutes ago, a hated, lying cheater who had been banned from baseball. Now he is the voice of the game on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, one half of America’s sweetheart couple with Jennifer Lopez, a Vanity Fair cover boy.

Derek Jeter was a beloved New York Yankees icon just minutes ago, with a seemingly infinite line of fans, teammates and opponents worshipping at his very presence in the game of baseball. Now he is ridiculed and reviled as the owner of the Miami Marlins — the Major League Baseball team, ironically, based in A-Rod’s hometown.

So it is safe to say that what is evil today can be good tomorrow. What is disgusting today can be embraced tomorrow.

And a once-seemingly impossible baseball Hall of Fame candidacy may seem very possible now.

Imagine A-Rod, of all the cheaters — a two-time admitted liar about using performance-enhancing drugs whose presence was so abhorrent to the game of baseball that he was banned for more than a year — being the one lone known weasel to wind up in Cooperstown, with a plaque next to Derek Jeter’s.

It seemed absurd minutes ago. But that was minutes ago — before A-Rod appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in a soft-toss hitting contest with a 2-year-old kid.

That was before ESPN turned itself inside-out to hire A-Rod — still employed as a baseball analyst for Fox Sports — to be part of baseball’s showcase Sunday Night Baseball broadcasting team.

That was before the A-Rod redemption campaign began.

Things change that quickly in the social media, attention-deficit world of public opinion.

So who knows what the voters for baseball’s Hall of Fame will think in 2021 — the first of 10 years A-Rod could be eligible for election?

A-Rod is a different kind of case than the other known cheaters who have been turned away so far by voters. He is a well-known chameleon, willing to do or be whatever you want him to be — as long as you love him.

In other words, a phony — a man for his times.

You’ll see no public redemption tour or campaign from Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, both still a long way from Hall of Fame election. Clemens garnered just 57.3 percent of the vote, while Bonds 56.4 percent in the results announced last week, a long way from the required 75 percent needed for election, with just four years of eligibility remaining.

Clemens was one of the most hated players in baseball before he went to the Yankees and became a World Series champion in 1999. He would be the star player named in the Mitchell Report as a performance enhancing drug user.

He has surfaced here and there since, but you won’t see him yucking it up with Conan or some other late night talk show. By nature, he is not warm and fuzzy, and has shown no inclination to do so for public rehabilitation purposes.

Same with Bonds, who admitted to taking steroids — the “cream” and the “clear” in grand jury testimony in the Balco investigation, though he denied knowing what he was putting in his body. A stint as the assistant batting coach with the Marlins did nothing to raise his public profile positively. He is, like Clemens, a prickly guy who would probably have to take a PED version of a drug to make him charming and embraceable enough to win over public opinion — and Hall of Fame voters.

But A-Rod? We’ve seen his desperate need to be loved. He has wormed his way back into the public good graces. By the time his Hall of Fame eligibility comes around, A-Rod could be hosting the “Today Show” with Hoda.

Of all the cheaters with Hall of Fame credentials — and, with 696 career home runs, 3,115 hits and 2,086 RBI, his numbers are incomparable — A-Rod has the most odious stench. He admitted to using steroids from 2001 to 2003 with the Texas Rangers, and then, after that, got caught in the Biogensis doping scandal in 2013, which led to his season-long suspension the following year.

He should be Hall of Fame radioactive.

A-Rod is perfectly capable of screwing it all up again. He has shown a propensity for self-destructive behavior.

But then he could fix it all back up once more and become a media darling yet again. He just needs to jump in the right bumper car.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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