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Keith Olbermann returns to ESPN, talks about A-Rod

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Keith Olberman

Alex Rodriguez returns to play in Yankee Stadium tonight for the first time since a disastrous 2012 postseason performance and  — even more ignominiously — since appealing his 211-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Boos have rained down on him since he returned to the field during the Yankees recent road trip, but it will be interesting to see how the home crowd receives him. Rodriguez can take solace in the fact that Keith Olbermann returned to SportsCenter last night, 16 years after napalming his bridges there. Maybe you can go home again after all.

Olbermann’s first tour of duty at ESPN was defined by two things: (1) His star-making SportsCenter partnership with Dan Patrick that helped define the franchise, and (2) his impressive ability to insult and offend just about everyone that had to work with him. When ESPN hired him back last month — to host his own show on ESPN2 — observers couldn’t help but think back to the line in ESPN: Those Guys Have All the Fun, in which Rece Davis told authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales about the producer who said, “If we hire Olbermann back, he first has to stand in the reception area and everybody who wants to, gets to come up and punch him in the stomach.”

There was no such revenge fantasy last night, as SportsCenter anchors Steve Levy and Neil Everett welcomed him back with a warm introduction that set up Olbermann’s special-comment like essay on… the return of Alex Rodriguez. (Watch the video here.)

Speaking from a Times Square studio, Olbermann looked thinned down and — in a dapper three-piece suit — dressed more like the TV political crusader he was in between ESPN stints than a sports commentator. “Which A-Rod is returning?” Olbermann asked rhetorically, referring to the various good and bad versions of the now disgraced third-baseman.

“The boo or cheer answer may come down to this,” he concluded. “The joke in baseball has always been that Yankees fans would cheer for the worst guy on the planet if he could hit. The amount of truth behind that joke may now be gauged in ways heretofore unimaginable.”

You can imagine the ESPN execs who rehired Olbermann nodding their heads in unison at that final remark. They might have a certain appreciation for their own in-house version of that joke. Which Keith is returning? As Levy exclaimed — half-amused, half-incredulous — following Olbermann’s soliloquy, “Keith Olbermann… ESPN! Wow!” As long as Olbermann hits — that is, as long as his 11 p.m. show connects when it premieres on Aug. 26 — the ESPN brass will spare him their own Bronx cheers.