If you’ve ever read my twitter account – or really, if you’ve ever met me – you know I’ve been a huge Alex Rodriguez fan for a long, long time. I was a fan way before all the big contracts and the even bigger controversies. I suffered through the bad years to enjoy the newest version of Alex Rodriguez some fans have grown to tolerate or, heaven forbid, even like.
I may not have had time to write anything since spring training, but you all knew you I would write about this.
First of all, let me say that I knew I would be an emotional mess however Rodriguez’s career ended. I am a (somewhat) logical human being and know that no athlete’s career can last forever. I even accepted the fact that Rodriguez’s career would be ending in the very near future – but I never expected it to be August 12, 2016.
All things considered, this ending could be a lot worse. The Yankees could have completely cut ties with Rodriguez considering the amount of stress he brought to the organization. Instead, they worked out a (seemingly) peaceful agreement to end his playing career and keep him as a special advisor – the highest paid special advisor ever. They didn’t have to do that. I know that, you know that, and the Yankees know that.
But despite the logical part of my mind knowing this, the whole thing still doesn’t set quite right with me. This ending is abrupt, and now it seems to be much less peaceful than it originally looked.
Last season, I had a terrible feeling this year would be Rodriguez’s last – but I actually thought he would get to the end of the year, realize he was now 41, and decide to retire a year early. In a way, my gut feeling was right – this year is, in fact, Alex Rodriguez’s last year as a professional baseball player. I had a gut feeling prior to the press conference Sunday morning as well (but I think a lot of us did). Something inside me knew the Yankees were about to screw him, and that this wasn’t his decision.
Sunday morning, I watched the press conference in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan before checking out and ending a weekend in the city. Not even 24 hours earlier, I had been at Yankee Stadium, seen the Yankees lose, and then saw Rodriguez drive by me and wave (the closest I’ll ever be to meeting him). In the height of that moment, I never in a million years thought I would hear about the end of his career just hours later.
Since crying and screaming at the TV in room 2309, I’ve had time to calm down and think about all this. I’m much less angry than I was Sunday morning, but there’s one thought that keeps running through my head since turning on ESPN that morning –
This is total bullshit.
Also – don’t call it a retirement! Mark Teixeira is retiring. Alex Rodriguez is being released.
Jason Zillo, who looked incredibly too happy to be announcing the end of a superstar’s career, said those exact words at the beginning of the press conference:
“Following the game [Friday] he will be unconditionally released by the club from his player contract, in order to sign a contract to serve as a special advisor/instructor for the New York Yankees. The new contract will run through December 31, 2017.” (Coincidently, when his player contract would expire.)
If you watched on MLB Network, you were able to witness something truly amazing before this press conference even started – Harold Reynolds was the voice of reason. Before anyone from the Yankees walks into the room, everyone on earth is alerted by a press release from the Yankees saying Rodriguez would be released. While this is being discussed on air, a dumbfounded Reynolds is heard saying “Why would they release all this before they get to say it?”
The Yankees didn’t even let him announce his own “retirement”!
If you’ve spent any time watching interviews of Alex Rodriguez, particularly during the Biogenesis mess and fallout thereafter, you may have noticed a significant change in his body language Sunday. I am by no means an expert on body language, but I’ve seen enough video of him in 20 years to notice subtle changes.
When Zillo is beaming and announcing the news, Rodriguez is first like a stone. He holds his jaw tight, staring straight ahead – maybe to keep his emotions in check, but maybe because he already knows the bullshit that’s about to be said. Later while Zillo is talking, he grabs his water bottle and takes a few quick, somewhat aggressive sips – something that was very characteristic of the defensive interviews he gave before he accepted his suspension. But then it’s his turn to talk.
The mood changes. He starts off reminding us that he broke into Major League Baseball at 18 and that he didn’t think he could play for 22 years. His hat comes off. He tries (unsuccessfully) to hold back tears. He stares straight ahead – maybe remembering that kid in Seattle who first caught my attention – and says that at 18, he was just trying to make the team.
“We all want to keep playing forever,” but ending gracefully is part of being a professional athlete.
He talks about the game and the team he loves, and that “today, I’m saying goodbye to both.”
“Saying goodbye may be the hardest part of the job.”
When he thanks his mom and his daughters, who have “been through so much with me,” he cannot stop the tears.
In his speech thanking so many people, including the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family (imagine that happening in 2014), he never says he’s retiring.
During the question and answer portion, a few things stuck out to me –
Rodriguez is clear this was “Hal’s idea” and “the Yankees’ decision,” but said he would keep his conversations with Hal Steinbrenner private, even though the very next day Steinbrenner discussed the discussions in detail on The Michael Kay Show.
When asked why Friday, August 12 would be his last game, he cited “logistics” as the reason. It is incredibly moving to hear him say he wanted to play one last game at home in front of his mom, but what an awkward time. That particular game opens a home stand and is the first game of a series against the Tampa Bay Rays – but that Saturday is the 1996 World Series reunion and Sunday is the Mariano Rivera plaque dedication.
Forgive me for being cynical, but it is only good business sense to add a promo to Friday’s game too and really try to sell tickets for a weekend series. Of course, that series is against a last place team – one who recently SWEPT the Yankees, which is probably what forced the Yankees to finally sell at the trade deadline. (But I’ll come back to that in a bit.)
Rodriguez is also asked how it felt to not be in the lineup day after day. He says it’s “not fun,” and calls it “painful,” “embarrassing,” and “awkward.” Anyone can clearly see the desire to play and contribute to the team is still there, even if the opportunities to do so aren’t.
The hardest question for Rodriguez, by far, is when he’s asked how he should be remembered – but in my opinion, it’s also the best answer he gives, and maybe the most genuine. He pauses, stares ahead, and says it’s not for him to say, but says he hopes to be remembered as someone who was “madly in love with the game of baseball” and someone who “tripped and fell a lot, but kept getting back up.” Later in the press conference, he refers to himself as a “guy like me who’s been to hell and back, and made all the mistakes in the book.”
If there is anyone in the world who still thinks this guy doesn’t regret the things he’s done, do yourself a favor and watch this press conference.
After Friday’s game, Alex Rodriguez will no longer play for the New York Yankees. Instead, he’ll be that highly paid special advisor – even though his duties don’t officially start until next spring training. He’ll go back home to Miami, far away from New York, and wait. Saturday morning, there will be a new player and a new jersey in the Yankees clubhouse, and I will forever remember him as “the guy who took Alex’s roster spot” regardless of who he is, or what kind of career lies ahead of him.
There are less than two months of the 2016 MLB season, and the Yankees are currently 7.0 games back in the AL East, 4.5 games back in the Wild Card. This isn’t the season the Yankees, or anyone else, planned on it being. The bullpen was supposed to be the strength of the team, but Bryan Mitchell suffered an early and unfortunate injury, Aroldis Chapman was traded to Chicago, and Andrew Miller was traded to Cleveland. Greg Bird was injured before spring training even started – and then several first basemen followed right along with him. Mark Teixeira and his anemic batting average are struggling through his final days as a profession baseball player (because he’s retiring, he’s not being released). The only offensive power the Yankees had, Carlos Beltran, was traded to Texas. Aaron Hicks is somehow a worse hitter than Stephen Drew, but yet he’s seeing regular playing time.
This isn’t a team that’s going far this year – but that’s okay. Things didn’t work out as planned, the Yankees sold what assets they had, and the future looks brighter than ever. I completely get that, even if I hate to see some of these players go. Baseball is a business…but there’s an emotional side too.
As already mentioned, Mark Teixeira is finishing out the season. He’s struggling to do so, but he’s out there giving it all he has before the end of the season. Derek Jeter was able to retire on his own terms. So were Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Those seasons weren’t what they hoped for either, but they gave it their all until the bitter end.
Why can’t Alex Rodriguez do the same? Even if the Yankees still forced him to leave the game, the end of a season is a lot more logical than a random Friday night in August. That would leave no awkward gap of watching regular season games from home, while the team you just left is still pretending they have a chance.
I was optimistic about this team as long as I possibly could be. But when Chapman, Miller, and Beltran were traded, the Yankees were waving the white flag – whether anyone in the front office admits it or not. I would love nothing more than to see the Yankees in the playoffs, but they would have to play nearly perfect baseball for the rest of this season, and I just don’t see that happening with this roster.
And if that’s the case, what harm is there in letting Rodriguez play a few more games for the Yankees? At this point, I don’t even care if he hits 700 homeruns or hits 7,000 homeruns – there is no financial bonus for either, but at least it gives him a chance to give it everything he’s got. Instead, he has a press conference on a Sunday, two opportunities to play on Thursday and Friday, and he’s done forever. He doesn’t even stick around to jump into the advisor role. I guess the young players like Starlin Castro who are here now don’t need any guidance until next year.
Thanks for your twelve years of service to the New York Yankees, you’ve got five days to wrap up here, but you’re only going to play two of those days.
I still think it’s a bunch of bullshit.
I did not even listen to Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi’s portions of the press conference. I know what Girardi said has already proven to be bullshit, and I just don’t have the stomach to listen to either one of them give their excuses right now.