The sad, quiet end of Alex Rodriguez’s career is his most endearing moment
Like most baseball fans who refer to themselves as purists (purists, btw, are people who condemn others for doing exactly the same thing they would do…but are afraid to admit it) I have struggled, for decades now, with Alex Rodriguez and what his career means.
Mostly because I put it in the context of me.
My personal connection to him starts and finishes at the junction of us being the same age.
When I was jotting ideas down for my high school graduation speech, he was busy getting picked first overall and endorsing checks making him an overnight millionaire. When I was striking out with girls in basements of Oregon frat houses, he was blistering his way through minor league pitching. On the occasion of getting my first “real” job after graduation, one that afforded my share of the rent in a third-tier neighborhood flat in San Francisco, Alex Rodriguez was busy becoming
baseball’s sport’s richest man.
Who wouldn’t be jealous of that at 24 or 28 …or even 32?
A-Rod would eventually be traded to the Yankees in 2004, a move that did portend the continuation of the era of Core Four dominance. At that point, pinstripes represented Steinbrenner’s Evil Empire crushing in the middle of the PED/rampant free-agency era. Not only was a team like Kansas City becoming a perennial contender and world champion as laughable as my feature-length Fantasy Island redux script getting made, but there didn’t seem to be any end to the reign of the slick-fielding, bomb-crushing corner infielder who brought his AL MVP hardware along with an entourage to handle the girth of his checkbook to the Bronx.
In his first four seasons with New York, A-Rod delivered. He won the AL MVP two more times and opted out of his ginormous deal after the 2007 season only to lock up 10 more years at $275 million—one-upping his own record for sports’ largest contract.
At 32, he became the youngest player to hit 500 home runs and grabbed his one and only ring in 2009.
But none of this was enough, not for Yankee fans anyway. A-Rod was always the adopted son to Derek Jeter’s homegrown golden boy. They both played their parts side by side. If the new stadium didn’t light up till Jeter cracked a smile, it didn’t fully dim until A-Rod finally got caught and suspended for 162 games in 2014 for his use of PEDs.
A-Rod’s unmemorable playoff performances including and especially after 2009 (2010 lost in the ALCS, 2011 lost in the LDS, 2012 swept in the ALCS and 2015 lost in the Wild Card) did nothing to establish his legacy as much more than a really expensive journeyman DH who spent the downhill decade of his career fingerblasting his way through the Upper West Side.
But, as he leaves the game unceremoniously Friday, his statistics are actually fucking dumbfounding: During his 20-year career, Rodriguez batted .297, hit 696 home runs (4th all time), batted in more than 2,000 runs, scored more than 2,000 runs and collected more than 3,000 hits. He is a 14-time All-Star, a three-time MVP and has won 10 Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves.
He leaves the majors with 25 career grand slams, a record that will never be broken. Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols — both objectively rounding third of their own careers — are next on the list of active players with 13 apiece.
But he also leaves the game Friday in the middle of the season that has seen the Yankees clean house and adopt the same farm-first formula that has propelled small- to mid-market teams to MLB prominence over the last decade and left the Yankees watching from the fishing charter in late October.
In the lead up to his final appearance, manager Joe Girardi benched A-Rod Tuesday saying, “We’re trying to win games.” Which they’re not. He will get the start Thursday against Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright and will most assuredly get to play a few innings Friday for his curtain call.
At least he got to scoop some infield souvenir dirt Technical Sargeant Mike Horvath-style:
We live in a micro-era of well-choreographed storybook endings for our favorite athletes: Think the Utah Jazz playing the role of the Washington Generals for Kobe’s swansong, Carolina’s secondary looking like they just got off the blood bus in the Santa Clara parking lot and staggering between the hash marks for Peyton Manning. And, closest to home, Jeter’s walk-off single less than a season ago to cap off the most storied Yankee career since Mantle.
But what has me rooting for A-Rod till his last at-bat and subsequent fade into oblivion of vague recollect, is his career has become real, relatable. Now as I look toward my own future uncertain — are my best professional days ahead of or behind me? — I can relate to the fade of Rodriguez’s smile and the light not shining so bright off his green eyes as he is left to ponder in a very Clintonian way, are there more yesterdays than tomorrows?
I have learned even the greatest struggle with these questions, so much that they’re forced to attempt to redefine who they are …and leave the legacy to whomever cares.
Now, at last, we are equals.