Early Sunday morning, an announcement came down from every possible Major League Baseball news outlet, via push notification on cell phones around America:
“Yankees, Alex Rodriguez schedule 11:00 am press conference.”
There was no air of mystery at all regarding what this abrupt call to arms in the name of the New York Yankees’ designated hitter was about: It was time for the white flag to be waved. Amid a year in which even MLB predictions couldn’t foresee his batting average being below .200, his slugging percentage drop nearly 250 points, watched just 15 of his 44 hits go for extra bases and his playing time diminish even further, it was time to face the inevitable – this was the end of the road for A-Rod.
Above all other things, this resolution was well past due. It has been quite the close to the career for the ever-defiant Rodriguez. Just four years ago, he was hobbled to the point that he put his glove away and made the transition to designated hitter due to a mixture of lower body injuries that zapped his once effortless range at the hot corner. It seemed at that point that the twilight was upon the 37-year-old.
However, at age 38, he was suspended for a full season from the game thanks to his involvement in the infamous Biogenesis lab scandal. Surely this would be the end for Rodriguez, because no one comes back after a year down at the age of 39 and produces at a legitimate MLB level. The game is just too difficult to take that type of time away at such an age and with such a damaged medical track record.
Yet, there he was back at the opening of spring training in 2015, creating the biggest circus to ever a spring training facility has known. He made his return to the game in what was supposed to be a subtle, unannounced (even to the organization, apparently) report to the team and got back to work … and did not relent for the next four months.
Rodriguez had a return for the ages, hitting 33 home runs after a more than a year away from the game, including gathering his 3,000th hit, 2,000th RBI and 25th grand slam, an MLB record. It seemed as if all rules and standards of the way the game works had ceased to apply to him, albeit in a positive fashion this time.
That is because the rules of convention do not, and have never, applied to Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez. From his days as a prodigy on the Miami prep scene through the hastily put together end of his days as an active ballplayer, which was made official with Sunday’s press conference, Rodriguez has walked an irreplaceable path throughout his life.
Taking out his early rise as a teenage phenomenon with the Seattle Mariners — and even his turn toward immortality before his wings melted as he drifted too flagrantly close to the sun as a Texas Ranger and Yankee — the twilight of Rodriguez’s career was brighter than most anyone else’s. But it was not composed of an award tour of the likes that David Ortiz is taking across the league this year, nor was it set up to be an extended affair in the likeness of his teammate Mark Teixeira’s pending retirement announcement last week and the famed Derek Jeter before him.
No, A-Rod’s walked the line in between. He will play his final game as a Yankee this Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays, and admittedly, it’s coming over a calendar year late. After August 1 of last year, Rodriguez’s average has been sub-.200. He has once again had health issues, and his bat speed has noticeably slowed down. To put it in layman’s terms: He’s old, and it finally showed itself.
So there was no reason to fight it any longer. The Yankees are a team that is desperately trying to get younger and shed itself of the burden of its past commitments, and none loomed larger than the archaic yet monumental sum that their part-timer Rodriguez commanded, oftentimes from closer to Joe Girardi this season than to home plate. Time was moving on, and so did A-Rod.
But there is no way that he could wrap things up in a simple manner. The manner in which is career has transpired as seen to it that he cannot proceed in the same fashion as any other player. His career is not headed to Cooperstown, where his numbers could be cut in half and still land him a space on merit but are offset by his suspension and alleged steroid use. He will not be reveled upon in his departure. Hell, it may even be difficult to retire his number without flak. There is no more special of a case than A-Rod, so his exit had to not only be strategically worked out — both in actuality and financially (he was cut a $27 million severance check) — but it had to be introduced and explained.
So that is what Rodriguez did on Sunday morning, joined by Girardi, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner, all of whom were on the same podium for the same awkward sense of finality that the moment brought. As Rodriguez uncomfortably weaved his way through telling the story of his last days as a Yankee and what is to come, it became more and more evident why this was such a unique moment: It was the first time, maybe ever, that Rodriguez had come down to put his feet on the ground in his career.
He arrived in New York in a flash of brilliance, announced his decision to stay in the Bronx in a monumentally self-indulgent manner during the 2007 World Series — which he was not a part of — and then hung on to his career amid a spotlight like none other. He had been a postseason pariah as well as a World Series hero. These are extremes in the baseball solar system that only he has been at the core of, highs as elevated as the lows are sub-sea level. But In the end, perhaps the most uniquely positioned man in the game’s history found himself breaking even on his way out the door.
After a career that brought in 3,000 hits, 696 home runs, 2,084 RBI, 547 doubles, 329 stolen bases, five home run crowns, 25 grand slams, 14 All-Star Games, a batting title at age 20 and MVP votes at age 39, but was also once offset by a 211-game suspension and the fallout of unapologetically signing his name on the line for over $500 million in his career and ardently sticking around to collect every red cent of it, Rodriguez deciding to gracefully admit defeat and having overstayed his welcome for the first time in his career is perhaps the most shocking outcome he has ever yielded.
For whatever way you choose to remember or recognize it, it cannot be denied that there has been a no less explicable career in the extended history of Major League Baseball than the one that Alex Rodriguez is closing in the last working week as a Major League Baseball player.
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.
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