When the news conference started at 11 AM earlier today, Alex Rodriguez took his medicine well. Forced by the Yankees organization to give up a kid’s sport he loved, the former three-time American League Most Valuable Player agreed to a new role following the season. His final game will be this Friday, Aug. 12 against the Tampa Rays at Yankee Stadium.
The announcement that the Yankees will be releasing A-Rod following Friday’s game comes as no surprise. The writing was on the wall. With manager Joe Girardi refusing to even play him against lefties, it was painfully obvious that his days were numbered. It still comes off bad that they won’t even let the 41-year old slugger finish the season. What’s the difference between Mark Teixeira retiring after the season and Rodriguez being forced out? Judge for yourself:
Teixeira 80 GP 280 AB .200 BA 10 HR 28 RBI .631 OPS
Rodriguez 62 GP 216 AB .204 BA 9 HR 29 RBI .609 OPS
Not surprisingly, the production is basically the same. Both aging veterans are at the end of the line. The only difference being is that Teixeira still plays a solid first base defensively while Rodriguez is only a designated hitter. The other notable is Teixeira is finishing out an eight-year contract while Rodriguez still is owed $27 million for the remainder of 2016 and 2017. The Yanks have agreed to pay him in full.
Rodriguez’ role will change for 2017. He will be cast a special adviser and instructor next season. An interesting title considering his experience on and off the field. Four home runs shy of 700, he’s decided to give up the chase to become only the fourth major league player to ever hit that milestone. A feat accomplished by Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762).
“No athlete ever ends his career, or her career, the way you want to,” an emotional Rodriguez told a packed media room while shedding tears. “We all want to keep playing, but it doesn’t work that way. Accepting the end gracefully is part of being a professional athlete. Saying goodbye may be the hardest part of the job, but that’s what I’m doing today.”
The sad aspect is this is the same controversial player who had a successful return after missing the entire 2014 season due to a suspension for his role in the Biogenesis performance enhancers scandal. Astonishingly, Rodriguez led the Yankees with 33 homers and drove in 86 runs to help lead the team to the wildcard. Ironically, Teixeira was also a key contributor with 31 dingers in 111 games before his season was cut short. A year later, they’re both done.
Of course, A-Rod is the same player who filed a lawsuit against the Yankees for withholding information on a hip injury back in 2012. He also tried to sue to the Player’s Association over losing his entire 2014. He admitted that he used steroids between 2001-03 due to a Sports Illustrated story prior to the ’09 season. His name was one of 104 players which was leaked to SI. Most of the list was concealed by the government. How curious that Rodriguez’ name was leaked. Strange coincidence. Hardly. He was targeted by Major League Baseball.
In sharp contrast, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has not had his name smeared despite also being on the list. Big Papi is playing out his final season with overwhelming support from hypocritical ESPN and fans. He is more revered. Probably due to his calm demeanor. But still, it is a bit ridiculous that his farewell tour is universally celebrated. As great a player as he’s been for Boston helping lead them to three world championships, he too took illegal substances. That came before he became a big star.
If we are going to hold every baseball cheat accountable, then there shouldn’t be a double standard. The bottom line is many well known stars used PED’s. That included Bonds, who passed Mark McGwire’s single season record of 70 with 73. Of course, McGwire also cheated as did Sammy Sosa when they raced each other in 1998 with McGwire out-slugging Sosa 70-66 with both surpassing Roger Maris’ 61 set in 1961.
The real culprit was former commissioner Bud Selig. He turned a blind eye to rampant steroid use following the return of baseball in ’95. The 1994 strike shortened season hurt its relationship with fans. A potential memorable season ended due to Donald Fehr. A year where Matt Williams and Ken Griffey, Jr. were chasing history. Williams led the majors with 43 home runs and Griffey was at 40. Tony Gwynn also was seeking to become the first player since Ted Williams to hit .400. The former Padres’ all-time great led the majors with a .394 batting average when the season was canceled.
With baseball back in a big way by the mid-90’s, they ran a successful campaign of Chicks Dig The Long Ball. The home run was never more popular. Everyone loved it including the media who fed into the Summer of ’98. The same journalists who praised McGwire and Sosa with great press and even selling books turned on them once the BALCO scandal was revealed in 2002. Other big names included Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmiero, whose defiant testimony before Congress that he “had never used steroids” was caught red handed. The scandal also took down American gold medalist track and field athlete Marion Jones.
Maybe if they had been paying closer attention, none of this would’ve happened. The point being is that A-Rod is far from the only guilty person who used performance enhancers during a memorable and controversial 22-year career. His 696 home runs rank fourth all-time. His 2,084 RBI’s are third trailing only Ruth and Aaron.
As for his thoughts on concluding his career this way, “It was the Yankee’s decision, and I’m at peace with it,” he said. “I thought I would have a strong finish and a strong year next year, but again, that wasn’t in the cards.”
Rodriguez is a 14-time All-Star who won 10 Silver Sluggers. As bad as he handled the first part of his Yankees career is how well he’s handled the final chapter. He’s been professional and respectful to his team, teammates and fans. He’s gone out of his way to sign bats for sick children and give back to the community. While he’s handled this with class, the same cannot be said for the Yankees.
Can you imagine George Steinbrenner doing this to a accomplished player who brought in so much revenue for the team and new ballpark? They don’t win a 27th World Series without Rodriguez’ six home runs and 18 RBI’s. Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine remain dark shadows that linger despite the organization’s youth movement.
It should’ve been handled differently. What would have been wrong with letting him play out the year and then releasing him? Rodriguez has been credited by Didi Gregorius for his offensive improvement. Ironically, Gregorius hit a home run on his own Bobblehead Day. He’s been the Yanks’ best position player. Gregorius has 13 homers and 49 RBI’s with a .288 average.
Rodriguez’ positive influence on young players can’t be overstated. He knows the game and what it takes to become a successful hitter. Love or hate him, he’s had a great Yankee career. Of his 696 career home runs, 351 have come in Pinstripes. That included the most homers in a single season by a right-handed hitter when he slugged 54 to go with 156 RBI’s during ’07 for his third and final AL MVP.
When it officially ends, it’ll be awkward. That was created by the Yankees. You do wonder if in two years, Rodriguez will consider a comeback and try to reach 700. Only time shall tell.