Since virtually nothing at the tail end of Alex Rodriguez’s career has gone according to plan or followed the narrative he and the New York Yankees envisioned, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the announced end of his Yankees tenure hardly seemed ideal.
One of the best players in baseball history — albeit a diminished and disgraced one — announcing his retirement after 22 MLB seasons, and the press conference is held late on a Sunday morning? With reports of the Yankees holding a presser regarding A-Rod trickling out Saturday night?
No, it wasn’t quite a Friday news dump, with news going out late in the afternoon with media and audience on the verge of checking out for the weekend. Many fans probably woke up Sunday to read their morning news and watch the sports and news shows and heard that the Yankees and A-Rod were having a press conference. Given the questions that were surrounding Rodriguez’s status with the Yankees, especially in light of the team’s trade deadline sell-off and Mark Teixeira’s retirement announcement two days earlier (which took up the Friday news out of Yankee Stadium), it wasn’t difficult to guess what the press conference would be about.
However, the Yankees finally acknowledging the inevitable still felt unexpected. Even with rumblings of the team finally deciding that Rodriguez had to go, along with the rest of the aging, overpaid clutter that was clogging up the roster. General manager Brian Cashman denied those rumors, and as it turns out, he was apparently telling the truth from his view. But there couldn’t be a full August cleaning while leaving A-Rod in the closet. Despite not playing regularly, he still took up too much room and drew too much attention. Someone was going to have to take that box out to the curb eventually.
Alex Rodriguez announces his retirement from baseball.https://t.co/TNBVlHfpaC
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 7, 2016
According to Rodriguez and Cashman, owner Hal Steinbrenner decided it was finally time to move on. This was his call. It’s his team’s money. Cashman couldn’t sign off on $27 million in dead payroll being cut without any hope of even a slight return on that continued investment. The future couldn’t truly be embraced without that big concrete block of the past chained around the team’s ankles.
Steinbrenner and Cashman have been trying to move the Yankees in this direction for years, becoming younger, less expensive, and deeper, while trying to win games and compete for World Series champions as both the team and its fanbase expects. The payroll was trimmed down to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. Cashman didn’t have the open checkbook to pursue top free agents such as Max Scherzer and David Price. But trying to rebuild while contending for the postseason is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. The Yankees tried to patch holes and prolong prosperity by signing the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
But eventually, the team had to commit to a new direction. The Yankees’ decline this year provided the convincing incentive needed to finally retool this team as Steinbrenner and Cashman had wanted to do for so long. Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded, followed by Beltran being dealt away. Acknowledging his age, constantly injured body and declining skills, Teixeira announced he would retire. And once Teixeira opened that door, Steinbrenner wanted to push A-Rod through it as well.
But this was still Alex Rodriguez, who’s made more money playing professional baseball than anyone ever has in the sport, who twice signed what was the largest contract in pro sports. He was a three-time AL MVP, who hit 40 or more home runs eight times during his career. Once upon a time, setting baseball’s all-time home run record seemed like an inevitability. The Yankees were obviously hoping for him to reach and surpass that peak when they signed him to a 10-year, $275 million before the 2008 season. He was supposed to get all the glory while wearing a Yankees uniform. Instead, the team ended up trying to figure out how it could get out of the deal for the past five years or so. Ultimately, Steinbrenner was willing to eat that $27 million if it meant getting rid of him.
My guess is Alex Rodriguez tries to play again for another team, after he finishes with the NYY. Only a guess. His belief in self still deep
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 7, 2016
Rodriguez was never going to come to this decision himself. Walk away from $20 million next year, along with whatever else he was owed this season? No way. The man loves the money too much. His greed superseded his talent, which is what will define his baseball legacy. A-Rod will always be remembered for going for the biggest contracts, first with the Texas Rangers, then with the Yankees, the team he seemingly always wanted to play for. Sure, he won with the Yankees. That’s always expected. The team made the postseason during nine of his 12 seasons in the Bronx. And the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, an achievement Cashman made sure to remind the assembled media of on Sunday.
There’s a lingering thought that Rodriguez will play for another team next season. He already got all of his money from the Yankees. Now he can focus on getting the last four home runs he needs for 700 in his career. The anonymous life of a special advisor and instructor for the team just doesn’t seem glamorous or high-profile enough for A-Rod. Maybe he wants to get away from the spotlight now after having it shine on him so harshly during the past four years. But Rodriguez has always been a guy who’s craved the attention, who’s tuned his life to be an all-too-polished, constantly public figure.
A-Rod’s identity and legacy seem so closely tied to playing in the nation’s largest market, for one of the world’s most famous professional sports franchises. Playing for his hometown Miami Marlins, or any other MLB club that might be willing to cash in some easy publicity by having Rodriguez hit his 700th home run in their uniform, doesn’t hold the same appeal. It doesn’t have the same iconography attached to the achievement.
That’s why Rodriguez going to television seems like such a natural move for him. A-Rod can still stay in the spotlight and be on people’s large flat-screens every weekend, but he won’t be scrutinized about PED use, his albatross of a contract, decreasing playing time or rapidly deteriorating performance from the sanctuary of a climate-controlled, perfectly lit TV studio. Rodriguez can re-invent himself as a sharp baseball mind and insightful analyst. He could even be praised for his work, instead of being targeted for constant derision because of his bloated salary and phony demeanor. That fits in perfectly on TV with all the other fake smiles and made-up faces.
Of course, A-Rod was supposed to be much more than a face. He was supposed to be a legend. Unfortunately, that story’s going to be told with a shameful shake of the head, not an approving nod of glory. It’s a book that virtually everyone involved with or following Rodriguez can’t wait to close.