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A-Rod’s juiced up stats destroy childhood memories

March 5, 2009

Statistics make it easy to quantify the abstract. It’s a simple fact, but I still find an undeniable cheap thrill in seeing a song shoot up my top 25 playlist on iTunes after a two-day binge. That the list is, on any given day, simply a manifestation of my current musical obsessions is more than a little shocking. But that’s just the thing about those “cold” statistics: they’re seemingly impersonal numbers that serve as a connection to something much more fluid, alive, and interesting.
It’s not much of a stretch to conclude that my attraction to numbers and what they can express comes from sports, specifically baseball. Every night for most of my childhood, I fell asleep to John Sterling and Michael Kay, the voices of the Yankees on ESPN Radio 1300, “The Team.”
I’d check the box scores every day, watch SportsCenter whenever I could, and arrange and re-arrange my precious collection of baseball cards. This involved putting all my best cards in a box labeled “bad,” and a bunch of worthless cards in a box labeled “good,” just so that, if we were robbed, I’d trick those villains into passing up my valued stash.
Those days are gone; my passions have been diverted elsewhere, and I no longer have the time or desire to methodically keep track of RBIs and ERAs. My heart just isn’t into it like it used to be.
So it came as a bit of a surprise that the news of Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use deflated me so much. The similar accusations levied earlier against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens received similar coverage, but I never could share the outrage that so many felt. Maybe that was because those players’ stats never served the purpose that A-Rod’s did.
Until his indiscretions were uncovered, A-Rod’s breakneck pace of home runs and hoards of RBIs were crisp numbers that served as memorials to a time in my childhood when dedicating several hours a week to box scores and baseball cards was of the utmost importance.
I gathered pages of his cards, spending all my money to buy a new $20 card with a flashy gleam to it because, at the age of 10, there was nowhere more exciting than the sports card shop to spend my birthday money.
A-Rod’s statistics were engrained in my mind; they were not, however, something of monumental significance, and were by no means a pillar of my childhood. Instead, like my Top 25 playlist, they hinted at warmer, fonder memories, the way a song can allow you to revisit a particular moment when the tune meant so much to you. The stats gained importance because they provided a link; they were a quantifiable set of numbers that I could see in bold print in the record book or a box score but were also the closest, most tangible way to revisit those past days.
So for me, A-Rod’s stats anchored memories of buying Twizzlers, Gatorade, and copies of The New York Post before heading down to New York City on long bus trips with my dad. Those memories were what breathed life into otherwise meaningless numbers. At least until the slugger’s steroid scandal broke out.
While I am still left with my all-time top 25 iTunes playlist, A-Rod’s steroid use has tainted my childhood memories. The scandal has even, on a certain level, created more of a disconnect with those memories. From now on, I will associate those numbers with a player who dishonestly juiced himself up, rather than with a simpler time, when a Yankees game, my dad, and a box of Twizzlers made everything right in the world.

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