Peter Gammons: Always wanting to be more, Alex Rodriguez robbed himself of an authentic career

alex rodriguez II

It was a Monday morning in early February, cool by Miami standards, and Alex Rodriguez had on a light sweater. He had agreed to sit down and answer a story by Selena Roberts that in 2003 he had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, and when he had been miked and the ESPN cameras began to roll he was already sweating through the sweater.

As the interview rolled on, he admitted that Roberts’ reporting was correct, and accurate; he attacked her, as he attacked Bud Selig and MLB and the Players Association, but by then I had the sense sitting across from him that he was headed for the runaway truck lane. It reached the point where he was hyperventilating, where we’d stop for water, where it was clear that repeating the question for a third time about his cousin and the pressure, whatever, was only going to send him down the ledge and into the breakdown. He’d already admitted Roberts was right. He wasn’t going to the weapons of mass destruction, if he remembered what he did and when in the first place.

Yes, his entire “scorched earth” attack on the people who were involved in his suspension this summer, was unseemly. He hired the toughest pit bulls of the legal profession when simple denial wasn’t enough, and in the end realized that these lawyers charge by the hour the way he’s been paid by the hour in the contracts Scott Boras negotiated for him—nearly $350M since that signing day at the Loew’s Anatole Hotel in Dallas in December, 2000—and that he had no chance in court to overturn a system his own union had bargained for.

So now the Yankees get to keep $25M of his 2014 salary, and that is fair, because Alex’s Biogenesis guilt has essentially stolen from the Yankees for two seasons. They’ve already gone out and signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka, and the $25M will further allow them to do what’s necessary between now and this time next year, be he Chase Headley or Justin Masterson or whoever is available. Maybe now they’ll sign Stephen Drew.

It appears that the Yankees are freed from another year of ARod distractions and leaks from “his camp” and all the rest. They are going to be good, probably very good, serious contenders in the American League East with the capacity to move on in 2015.

For all the joy that seamed out yesterday, there is such a sad part in all this. In April, 2009, I asked Alex why he couldn’t just be a baseball player, which, in reality is one of the best baseball players of all time. Why did he always have to be more, an actor, a star whose life was seen out of a lens smudged with Vaseline? “I don’t know,” he answered. “That’s what I am.”

He always wanted to please, to be something more than a great baseball player. Today, after injuries and suspension, he sits fifth all-time in homers, ninth in total bases, 12th in Offensive War, ninth in total bases, and if he could play out his career, he might have hit 800 home runs.

But instead of being honored in the latter days of his career, if he plays in 2016-18 he will be ridiculed, charred. Of course he is part of the Steroids Era, and now Barry Bonds (1), ARod (5), Sammy Sosa (9), Mark McGwire (10), Rafael Palmeiro (12) and Manny Ramirez (14) comprise six of the top 14 all-time home run leaders, and likely none will be able to stand up at the podium in Cooperstown, dozens of Hall of Famers at his back, and give the speech that legitimizes everything he accomplished.

Alex would die for that moment, but in the shorter moments of trying to justify a $252M contract or be New York baseball’s Donald Trump, he robbed himself. It is sad, because Alex Rodriguez loves to play baseball. He has always played hard. Did he try to hard some Octobers? Probably. He wanted to be Mr. October, like Reggie Jackson. He wanted to be a classic Yankee.

Who knows what he will do out of the spotlight for the next year. Oh, he may show up at events and he will have his picture one day on Page Six, another evening on Inside Edition, always with some beautiful blonde, but what is the relevance of a 39-year old baseball player in exile?

Alex is not a bad guy, he is one of the most insecure human beings on the planet who happens to privately be very likeable. That historic psychological truth that self-absorbed people often become self-delusional applies, but it probably applies to a lot of those of his era who similarly will always have to pay for a motel room in Oneonta if they want to go to the Hall of Fame induction.

As the tides carry him out of the baseball shore, one wonders what will happen to Alex Rodriguez. One worries. By the time he is done playing baseball, between the game and the off-field gigs he has made close to $600M, no amount of coin is going to bring him what he believed Tony Bosch could deliver.

Maybe in this next year, he can put his career in perspective, face reality and with all his money make the next forty or fifty years a life worth living, a life that gives others hope. Alex Rodriguez shouldn’t turn into Jose Canseco, he’s just the kid in the class who always wanted to be noticed, but, in reality, never really knew how to act. Maybe when he reports to spring training next February, he’ll remember not the spotlight, but the authentic emotions Mariano Rivera generated last year, or Derek Jeter might generate in 2014 if he decides it is time to retire.

He was really good, and he worked really hard to come back from a hip procedure which forced him to change his gait which eventually broke down other parts of his body. But that wasn’t enough, and he had to turn to Bosch and the scorched earth attorneys, all of whom led him where he is today, Elba.

  • http://gohlkusmaximus.com/ gohlkusmaximus

    This is a very insightful column and I thank you for writing it, Mr. Gammons. Compassion is possibly the most important human emotion, even in sports.

  • bralinshan

    If A-Rod isn’t a “bad guy” then I’d like to know who is…when you lie, cheat, and steal…your not a good guy. When you attempt to destroy people in your path for telling the truth? Your not a good guy.
    The truth is that A-Rod was completely out of options and he was advised that the party was now over. Similar to Lance Armstrong, these narcissistic personalities only become contrite when caught. Similar to Armstrong, he’s not a good guy in any sense. He’s a cautionary tale of what happens when you believe that your Superman and that you are above all people…and all rules.
    A-Rod may have been a good guy at one point in his life. But, that guy is long gone.

  • sergio

    anybody else remembers that interview? A-Roid was talking all kinds of crap about the “loosey-goosey” times and Mr. Gammons here was in fact drinking the kool-aid, you could see him nodding along the whole time, that wasnt cool…