Peter Gammons: A farewell to Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez Farewell

He seemed so young, so well scrubbed that he looked like he could have been a high school sophomore that rose out of the AAU summer camps stamped NBA swing guard/forward committed to Kentucky long before his driver’s permit.

It was July 8, 1994, 13 months after the Mariners had made him the first pick in the country. Long before he was drafted, baseball folks told me this kid from Westminster High School outside of Miami was at the peak of the hyperbole, was the best prospect they’d ever seen, or, realistically, one of the three best they’d seen along with Junior Griffey and Darryl Strawberry, and the trip to Fenway that day was to meet Alex Rodriguez but to watch Alex and Junior play together against the Red Sox and their starting pitcher Chris Nabholz.

The game itself remains something of a blur. The Red Sox won, 4-3. Ken Ryan got the save. But ARod just seemed so young, his eyes childlike as he sat on the visiting bench—probably the same one Stan Musial sat on during the 1946 World Series—and so passionately loved what he was doing. Ken Griffey Jr. is now in the Hall of Fame, having received the highest percentage of any player on the ballot. Edgar Martinez may be there, as well. 14 months later HOFer Randy Johnson pitched, ARod was at shortstop, and when Edgar Martinez ripped that ninth inning pitch to left field, Griffey went around the bases like Bullet Bob Hayes to score the winning run to beat the Yankees in the great ALDS comeback, the Mariners were on their way out of their career-long life in the cage known as The Kingdome. Four of the great young players at the game essentially stopped the brilliant plan to move the team to St. Petersburg, built the magnificent Safeco Field and changed the franchise forever.

At a forum with Griffey in Cooperstown last month, I was asked what is my favorite Griffey moment, I said that Martinez hit, Griffey’s dash around the bases that made Johnson a winner and made Seattle one of the game’s best baseball towns. “Good call,” Griffey said. “We watched it on some show last week and my wife said she never knew I could run that fast.

Junior, in Cooperstown. The previous July, Johnson participated in that same forum. Hopefully, some coming July, it will be Edgar.

Then, if I am fortunate enough to moderate that forum, I will flash back to July 8, 1994, as I did with Johnson and Griffey, thinking how sad it is that ARod will never to get experience that weekend in Cooperstown, knowing how much it would mean to him, knowing how much, crawling out of some of the wreckage he created through the years, what enabled to crawl was his love of the game.

That July day in 1994 came back leaving Rodriguez’s Miami house on Feb. 8, 2009, which remains one of the most difficult interviews I have ever conducted. He was prepared. He knew that after Serena Roberts’ piece in Sports Illustrated he had to make a public admission, which had been emphasized to him by Scott Boras. But as he was miked up for the interview, Alex was clearly beginning to hyperventilate. Producer Willie Weinbaum saw it as well, and lined up bottles of water.

I had prepared 25 major questions to be answered, and as Alex answered the first, it was clear that while he so badly wanted to do the right thing and answer, questions would have to be repeated to step up from what he had prepared in his mind. This was not going to be Mike Wallace or Scott Pelley; we never could have gotten to 25 answers and to this man whose Shakespearean Flaw was his public persona, to badger—and, remember, this was not Joseph McCarthy—would force a meltdown that would have been the ultimate humiliation.

Just the admission was humiliating. The interview was essentially like trying to recreate Charles Munch guiding the Boston Symphony through the Mozart Requiem. Unfortunately, Alex could not be guided away from or somehow diverting away from the admission to Serena Roberts’ “stalker” reporting, which troubled me for weeks until I saw her in spring training, and she made it clear she fully understood everything, because she had interviewed him, a conversation that has stuck with me to this day.

Leaving his house, I realized this wasn’t about beating the system. It started after the $252M contract with the Rangers because Alex Rodriguez may be the most insecure athlete I have ever known. In some ways there is an honor here, because Alex Rodriguez became the highest paid player in the history of the sport and feared for not living up to that contract. So the spiral of physical and psychological support to beat disappointment began. He needed to be liked, to maintain public perfection.

He pushed for the deal to Boston after the 2003 season. He called one time when I was walking down Newbury Street, and when I told him people were yelling at me asking if he was coming to Boston, he asked me to hold up the phone. He loved it. When he, Boras and Theo Epstein met with the Players Association to try to work down the contract, both Boras and Alex called the next morning, they both were trying to reach a compromise that they could never reach because Orza felt such a compromise violated the Basic Agreement and was injurious to hundreds of other members of the union.

On Dec. 22, the deal was off. Aaron Boone, who knocked the Red Sox out of the 2003 ALCS, a month later got hurt playing basketball, was so inherently honest he called Brian Cashman and told him how it happened (knowing his contract would be voided), and soon Rodriguez was a Yankee.

That Rodriguez ended up in pinstripes, not by his choice but by MLBPA decree, never assuaged Red Sox fans, still in “long-suffering” mode. He was to be forever hated. Now, one PED revelation came out and the stories of what he took and to what extent he hired lawyers to trash Rob Manfred and other members of the Commissioner’s Office, made him a more unlikable, unsympathetic figure.

Yet there was always this other side. He loved sharing the game with young players, like Robinson Cano. Sure, he loves to be loved and the original hard Yankee core was difficult for him and many young players to infiltrate, and it became a major of his uniformed life.

When he first required a hip surgery, a noted expert at Harvard Medical School said it was a new procedure, his problem was so deep that there was no way to predict how successful he would ever be. When Rodriguez had the second procedure, that doctor said “if he ever plays again, it will be a miracle.”

As everyone around the Yankees will tell you, no one works harder than Alex Rodriguez, and because of the work and the dedication he performed the miracle of coming back from two deep, delicate hip labrum operations.

As he returns to where his major league career began in Boston, he will be subject to “AROD…AROD” jeers. Fine. It started this weekend when the first of the Teenage Wasteland began posting jeering delight at his retirement announcement and by the time he leaves Thursday night Teenage Wasteland will have thrown everything his way.

Of course, they would never yell that at Manny Ramirez. Did they like 2004? Of course. 2007? Of course. So it was all right to be blinded by the light when the Red Sox won, but as a three time loser whose career PED/OPS+ numbers cannot be calculated, we also know that in 2008 Ramirez blew his way out of Boston (in a year in which Boston reached Game 7 of the ALCS), put up historic numbers in L.A. that got dozens of very capable people fired in Arizona while he enjoyed his next $24M contract in 2009.

Alex Rodriguez may be retired on Saturday, he may not. He will be very happy helping young Yankee players, I hope he is happy away from the spotlight. He is a good guy, whose career should have made him the greatest shortstop who ever lived, a career that could and should have made him one of the happiest persons to ever step to the stage in Cooperstown.

He loves baseball the way Dustin Pedroia loves baseball. But the affliction of insecurity riddled his career, the need to be what he didn’t need to be in terms of public perception was the Shakepearean Flaw that makes his public perception the curse of that flaw will forever follow him.

You can rant and hoot and mock and curse Alex Rodriguez, but I am now 22 years past watching and meeting him for the first time, and twenty years from now I will remember that for all he inflicted on himself, I never failed to see him play hard.

If, like Robin Yount and Pedroia, Mike Trout and Darin Erstad, that’s all that he had ever asked for, the ending to this tragedy of human insecurity would have a far different ending.

Comments

  1. Chase Wilis says:

    Love him or hate him he was one of the best players of his generation. It’s a shame he chose to resort to PEDs…. btw, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to come to a site without ads all over the page, something to be said about uninterupted information.

  2. GhostOfFenway says:

    Tough not to see him on the field or in the line-up at Fenway. I understand that he is no longer a viable option for a competitive team, and the Yankees are not “completely out of it”, crazier things have happened. Though it is nice to see him pay omage the people of Fenway, where he always seemed to do damage and get the best out of the Boston crowd. Last night we heard chants of “WE WANT AROD…..WE WANT AROD”… Every hero needs a villain, and AROD was one of the best players you loved to hate.

  3. It is not the PEDs that sunk this guy. It is the lying – the lying – the lying. The self-absorbed modus operandi (remember the profile of him that featured that foto of him looking in the mirror?) . I remember seeing him all through his years in Seattle, first and foremost – he was adored as the young phenom. Soon, however, he began reading his own press and perfecting the fine art of blowing smoke up his own you-know-what, and people tired of his show-boating. He continued to put up great numbers but, upon leaving for Texas, said in his departing press conference that he was looking forward to going to “a more cosmopolitan city” . Fort Worth? Really? I don’t think he is a bad guy – I just think he is so furiously un-intuitive and imperceptive that he truly has had no clue of his role in a TEAM game. And ultimately because of these failings, so bloody selfish that no Yankee fan I know, including myself and the rest of my family is going to miss him. At all.

  4. David Sullivan says:

    Given this essay’s headline, I was entirely of the mind that I’d disagree with PG no matter what he wrote. The only farewell I’d like to give A-Rod is one that takes him into that good night. JS Blum (Aug. 10 comment re this topic) captures the essence of my opinion about A-Rod and players like him in the Doping Era of MLB: lie, cheat, steal — do anything to inflate one’s worth in regard to individual statistics and one’s Q-rating? So be it, if the cost-risk ratio is so lopsidedly in favor of those who cheat. Over the past 30 yrs., this has been the guiding ethos in sports played at the highest level, in the US and internationally. The use of PEDS — and the blind eye sporting gatekeepers have turned toward PEDs (by individual athletes, by teams, by mainstream media to a large extent, by entire sporting entities, and, most egregiously, by sports fans themselves) — correlates directly with the stakes involved for success vs. failure. Rodriguez’s own record-setting (and, at the time, seemingly ridiculous) contract with NY is perhaps the best case in point in this regard. He got this contract because he could deliver the goods: over the course of his career, he earned for his team ownership, team ownership partners, MLB, and MLB sponsors (including Disney, Comcast, Fox Entertainment, and TBS) many times more on the dollar than he was paid. NY made a smart investment when it beat out Boston for A-Rod’s services. That he was doping during any part of his career remained immaterial to the cost-benefit-risk analysis conducted by the Rangers, the Red Sox, and the Yankees because no one cared one whit about him — Rodriguez is, and remains, a product dubbed “A-Rod.” I’m not sure how he differs in this respect from any other elite MLB athlete in the past 30 years, except he, like a few others, got caught in the “risk” part of the ratio. A-Rod, like other MLB cheaters, such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGuire, Sammy Soza, and Manny Ramirez, shouldn’t be recognized as an all-time great. Then, again, chances are that many of MLB’s best over the past 30 years have used PEDs. The mere suspicion of PED use is why Jeff Bagwell, e.g., isn’t in the HOF. If Bagwell isn’t HOF-worthy by PED speculation, then perhaps A-Rod is not HOF-worthy by a proven PED fact. [Similar aspersions as those pertaining to Bagwell will, and should, be cast upon David Ortiz, BTW.] That Mr. Gammons has redirected our attention to Alex Rodriguez the person, not just the athlete-icon, makes me more mindful of what I care most about in sports: In sport, we see our individual and collective dreams and fears realized via the drama only competition yields. Mr. Gammons reveals a fear at the core of Rodriguez’s identity — human frailty — one that PG suggests has carved out the arc of Rodriguez’s professional career. The tension ambition versus fear exerts is the most common of human experiences, and it is no doubt the most enduring: after all, what else is left besides life or death, in the end? A-Rod’s end-of-career drama is a kind of death scene, one I welcome because it’s long overdue. I am, because of Mr. Gammons’ particular reach, barely able to touch what remains human and inspiring in that rookie he met 22 years ago. And because of this empathy, I am in reminded of my own possibilities as well as my own mortality. A-Rod’s legacy will be what it is, and it will be for others to evaluate his career. Peter Gammons reminds us to appreciate the best we see in ourselves, past, present and future.

    • GhostOfFenway says:

      Well Said David. I don’t know why we attach ourselves to this PED thing with A-rod. Was he the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, no. Was he a bit of a liar at times throughout his career, yes. Was he clutch, didn’t seem that way. Did he get paid an insulting amount of money over the years, yes. Did people hate him, yes. Did they love to hate him, oh yes. But when you look back at his career, can you say he was one of the greatest players of the last 30 years, I think you would be lying to yourself if you didn’t have a 22-32 year old Arod playing shortstop for your starting 9. But yes, he did PEDs, he lied, he went to the Yankees, he shakes you the wrong way. But as Peter said, he always played hard, he always loved the game, and he always wanted to be the best. Ya he was a headcase, but the human condition is crazy thing… I’m done pretending to actually hate the guy