Forget everything you think you know about Alex Rodriguez, his unapologetic narcissism, his steroid use or his subsequent year-long suspension from Major League Baseball.
What we saw Sunday at Yankee Stadium had nothing to do with business or A-Rod’s on-field performance (or lack thereof). This was personal. The Yankees have been looking to stick it to A-Rod since Major League Baseball suspended him for the entire 2014 season for what it deemed “overwhelming evidence” that Rodriguez not only illegally obtained performance-enhancing drugs from the now-defunct Biogenesis lab, but also sought to hinder the league’s investigation into those allegations.
Yesterday, they finally got their man, forcing A-Rod from the game he’s loved and dominated for 22 seasons. On Sunday in the Bronx, A-Rod announced Friday will be his final game, at which point he’ll sign on as a special instructor and team adviser next season, which would’ve been the final year of the ill-advised 10-year, $275 million extension the Yankees offered him when he opted out of his original deal in 2007.
The same proud organization that signed Aroldis Chapman this past winter after the flame-throwing reliever choked out his girlfriend and then slammed her against a wall in his home theater apparently hasn’t lived down the embarrassment of one of its star players getting kicked out of the game for being an alleged steroid cheat, so it dealt with A-Rod the only way it knew how, by drastically cutting his playing time, making him a clubhouse pariah and forcing him into an early retirement.
The only problem is it took more than a full season to execute the plan because A-Rod – 39 years old and more than 19 months removed from his last meaningful at-bat – had the audacity to show up in shape last season and show up the rest of his lousy teammates, clubbing a team-high 33 home runs, his best season since finishing 15th in the MVP race in 2010.
Unable to justify dumping their best player in the midst of a playoff run, the Yankees simply had to wait out Father Time, which finally caught up to A-Rod this year. At age 40, Rodriguez has struggled since opening day, batting a paltry .204 with only nine home runs and a .609 OPS in 62 games prior to Sunday’s announcement.
While Mark Teixeira, who is thankfully retiring at the end of the season, has been awarded nearly 100 more at-bats despite a .199 average and C.C. Sabathia is still allowed to take the ball every fifth day regardless of his 6.62 ERA in his last nine starts, A-Rod has been riding the pine for most of the season, a card-carrying member of the Joe Girardi Doghouse.
A-Rod said all the right things Sunday during his emotional press conference, confirming the Yankees never threatened to release him if he didn’t choose to walk away on his own – and ESPN’s Wallace Matthews corroborated that with his own report later in the day – but it’s hard to believe the man who allegedly hung a picture of himself as a centaur in his own bedroom has decided to wave goodbye six weeks before the end of the season needing only four more home runs to become just the third player in baseball history to reach 700.
What’s even more difficult to fathom is how the Yankees could despise A-Rod so much, even as general manager Brian Cashman removed his 2009 World Series ring during Sunday’s presser and correctly pointed out he wouldn’t have one “without Alex’s contributions,” that they wouldn’t even grant him the dignity of playing out the final six weeks of his brilliant career on a team going absolutely nowhere and allow him to take a few hacks down the stretch at reaching a historic milestone.
This is the same organization that welcomed back Sabathia with open arms after he drunk himself into a blithering stupor while pocketing $69 million over the last three years and allowed Derek Jeter’s decaying corpse to bat 581 times during his farewell season in 2014 despite his .617 OPS and minimal defensive contributions at shortstop. Their initiative to get younger and rebuild the farm system is commendable, and long overdue, but giving A-Rod six weeks to right the ship and chase history – and perhaps put a few extra asses in all those empty seats at the stadium, which is a bigger embarrassment to the marketability of the franchise – would not have inhibited those plans whatsoever.
The Yankees have a funny way of picking and choosing which steroid cheats, wife-beaters, alcoholics and drug abusers they welcome into the family, and which seedy characters get written out of the will. Andy Pettitte admitted to using human growth hormone in 2002 to recover from an elbow injury, but not until after his named appeared in the infamous Mitchell Report of 2007, which outed more than 85 players for their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Pettitte is still a beloved, iconic figure in Yankee folklore – and rightfully so – while the guy who probably taught him all the joys of PED use, former Yankee hurler Roger Clemens, has been wiped from the franchise’s memory, as if his 15-strikeout, 1-hit masterpiece in the 2001 ALCS was a figment of our imaginations.
Even Jason Giambi, who held a bizarre, borderline insulting, press conference in 2005 to apologize for a bunch of non-specific indiscretions after his name appeared on a list of players who admitted to using steroids, remained a fan-favorite in New York and was universally celebrating after recording the final hit in the old Yankee Stadium in 2008.
Keep in mind Rodriguez already admitted seven years ago to using performance-enhancing drugs between 2001 and 2003 and has never failed a steroid test under the new MLB drug policy, yet received the longest drug suspension and longest non-lifetime suspension in baseball history, originally 211 games until an arbitrator chopped it down to 162.
Since his return in 2015, he’s been a model citizen on and off the field and is lauded for his work with younger players, which explains his impending role as an advisor, especially on a team in transition, but the idea that the Yankees in no way forced him out is as absurd as the theory that A-Rod wouldn’t have been a Hall of Fame-caliber player without the assistance of PEDs.
Rodriguez thrived before, during and after the disputed Steroid Era, returned to the game following two hip surgeries and a year-long suspension at the age of 39 and still outhit more than half the league. He won two MVP awards, belted 351 home runs with the Yankees and led them to their only World Series title in the past 15 years. Were it not for his heroic efforts against the Angels and Phillies in 2009, Cashman and others might’ve been out of a job a long time ago.
A unique talent like this comes along once in a lifetime. The Yankees have made millions off of A-Rod’s abilities while turning a blind eye to whatever he did off the field or in the clubhouse while feigning shock and awe over the fact he had the gall to embarrass the organization in such a manner. They’ll pay him another $7 million this year and an additional $21 million next season, so they may not owe him anything from a financial standpoint, but they owed him the right to play out the final six weeks of the season and end his career on his terms, not theirs. This entire development is embarrassing, but not surprising for an organization that flip-flops its moral high ground whenever it’s convenient for the payroll.
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