They say an athlete dies two deaths. One when you take off the uniform for the last time and, of course, your natural death. For Alex Rodriguez, the highest earning player in the history of America’s national pastime, that first death was much more of an execution than a peaceful fade into the sunset.
There will be no season-long embrace full of gifts and celebration a la Derek Jeter or David Ortiz. Alex Rodriguez will wear the pinstripes one last time on Friday, August 12th, in the Bronx, against the Tampa Bay Rays.
For Rodriguez, the writing was on the wall. Whether or not he was done with baseball, the sport, and especially his team, was done with him. After a surprisingly successful first half to the 2015 season, in which he was the best hitter on the best team in the American League East, Rodriguez’s, as well as the Yankees’, performance waned in the latter half of 2015 and into the 2016 season.
Alex has started only one of the team’s games since July 22nd and is only batting .151 (3 for 31) since the All Star break. The Yankees have traded away their two best pitchers, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, and their best hitter, Carlos Beltran, in order to revamp their farm system to prepare for a brighter future, a future that Rodriguez will not be a part of. As playing time became sparse, it became increasingly clear that Alex would not be returning for 2017. Whether the Yankees would buy out the remaining 27 million dollars on his contract or whether he would retire was unclear, at least until the Yankees and Rodriguez held a surprise press conference two hours before their game against the Cleveland Indians on Sunday August 7th.
In front of his teammates and various members of the media, Rodriguez announced that he would play his final game for the Yankees this Friday, before joining the front office as a special adviser and instructor for the 2017 season. As for the rest of the 2016 season, while he is free to sign with any other club in order to pursue various milestones (he is fourth all time with 696 home runs), Alex said he would return to his home in Miami to spend time with his two daughters.
It appears as though Friday would be it, the abrupt end of the 22-year career of one of the most prolific sluggers of the 21st century. Yankee manager Joe Girardi did not commit to starting Rodriguez during the team’s upcoming series against their rival Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.
In what was an all-around difficult press conference to watch, Rodriguez stated that he had met with the team’s owner Hal Steinbrenner to discuss a front office position. While Rodriguez never admitted it, it seemed as though he was given an ultimatum: either retire with grace or be released. He clearly was not given much of a choice. Rodriguez said he believed he could still play baseball; the Yankees had other ideas.
Throughout the press conference, the media saw a side of Rodriguez that is not often shown. He was humble, thankful, and seemed truly saddened that this was the way his legendary career would end.
The most painful moment of the press conference occurred when a reporter asked Rodriguez how he should be remembered. Rodriguez paused for several seconds before saying that he would like to be thought of as someone who loved everything about the game of baseball. He followed that by saying “I will hopefully be remembered as someone who tripped and fell a lot, but someone who kept getting up.”
And trip he did. Through good times and bad, Rodriguez was always in the spotlight. For years many thought Rodriguez was just a superstar narcissistic weirdo who underperformed in the postseason. He did a photo-shoot featuring himself kissing a mirror. He owns (at least) one painting of himself as a centaur. In the middle of the 2007 World Series, Rodriguez diverted attention onto himself by opting out of his contract with the Yankees, before ultimately re-signing for more money. Then, in December of 2007, he lied to the nation in a 60 Minutes interview with Katie Couric by saying that he had never taken Performance Enhancing Drugs. In 2009, he admitted that he was not being truthful to himself and that he was clean from 2004 on. In 2011, cameras spotted him at Super Bowl 45 being hand fed popcorn by then girlfriend Cameron Diaz. Then, in 2013 Rodriguez, as well as his Yankee teammates Melky Cabrera and Francisco Cervelli, were tied to the Biogenesis steroid scandal stemming from a report on a clinic in Rodriguez’s hometown of Miami, Florida.
Ultimately, the Biogenesis scandal did Rodriguez in. The League was tired of his antics and he was handed a 162 game suspension, forcing him to miss all of the 2014 season, the final season of teammate Derek Jeter’s storied career.
While Rodriguez was not finished with baseball, it was certainly finished with him. He was intentionally thrown at throughout the 2015 season, the most memorable being when Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster hit Rodriguez in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Baseball. Rodriguez paid no mind to it, took first base, and then hit a homerun off of Dempster to dead centerfield in his next at bat. Later in the season, he became the 29th player in baseball history to collect 3,000 hits and only the third (joining Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter) to do so by hitting a homerun. Yet, no one seemed to care. An event that garnered international news coverage and led to an hour-long HBO documentary for Jeter was simply another day at the office for A-Rod.
For a player who could never shy away from the spotlight, it seems only fitting that the sudden announcement of his retirement would dominate the headlines on a day when his former teammate Ichiro Suzuki, the undisputed international Hit-King, recorded his own 3,000th career Major League hit.
Despite the negatives, Rodriguez is still one of the greatest players and teammates in Major League history.
The highlight of the press conference was when General Manager Brian Cashman, the man who signed Rodriguez to a 10 year $275 million dollar contract after the 2007 season, took off his 2009 World Series ring saying that that championship does not come to the Yankees without Rodriguez’s contributions. A-Rod was a vital part of the team’s only championship since 2000. Without that championship, Brian Cashman would not be the current GM of the Yankees and my generation of Yankee fans would not have any recollection of seeing their team win the last game of the baseball season live.
When asked about Rodriguez’s contract, Cashman confirmed that he will be paid the remainder of his contract saying “he gets everything he deserves”, a peculiar choice of words considering Rodriguez is being forced to leave the game in such an abrupt and disappointing manner.
When manager Joe Girardi, spoke he praised Rodriguez for his work with young Latino teammates – specifically his work with Robinson Cano, who once approached Rodriguez on advice for how to hit with runners in scoring position. Rodriguez worked with Cano on a practice field and the young hitter soon blossomed into one of the greatest second basemen in franchise history.
Ultimately it was a bittersweet day in Yankeeland. The future is bright for the team with the second-best farm system in baseball (as per mlb.com). But it is also losing a face of the franchise. Steroids or not, Rodriguez was a sensational talent who averaged a 40 home run-20 steal season for a decade from 1998-2008.
But it was also time to move on. Rodriguez was essentially a bench right handed designated hitter, the biggest waste of a roster spot one can imagine. Personally, I believe it would have been nice to see him stay on the team through the 2016 season. While the Yankees are not eliminated from playoff contention, their current chances of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs, stand at 2.2%.
When rosters expand in September, the Yankees will undoubtedly call up young right-handed power hitting prospects Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and, perhaps, top prospect Clint Frazier. Having those young players on hand as Rodriguez chased down his 700th career homerun would have been a special moment for Yankee fans to cheer for in what has become a lost season.
Alas, this will not be the case. There will be no ceremony for a plaque in Monument Park. Unlike the number 2, a player will wear the number 13 in pinstripes again.
Some people see Alex Rodriguez as a villain who took more from baseball than he ever gave, and to those people, he deserves this end.
I personally find it disappointing. Despite his shortcomings, Rodriguez never came off as a malicious person. He was a fun player for people to root for and root against. In the end, the Yankees were all he had, and even they closed the door on him as a player. No one will weep for A-Rod, nor should they. Baseball is a business, and Alex Rodriguez made a comical amount of money playing a child’s game. Yet in the end, it is still disheartening to see a superstar that you grew up either cheering for or against, be forcefully pushed out of the league by his employer.