Alex Rodriguez played his final game Friday night. He went 1 for 4, with the 1 an RBI double and the 4 including two strikeouts. His farewell ceremony was cut short by a torrential thunderstorm.
All too appropriate for the man who was going to break
Hank Aaron Barry Bonds’ career home run record and be anointed as the greatest of all time. He was, once, or seemed to be on the verge.
He was the overall No. 1 draft pick in 1993 and came up the next year at age 18. With his first team, the Seattle Mariners, he won a batting title in 1996 (he was just 20) and swatted 40-plus home runs three years in a row — an amazing feat for a shortstop, a startling feat for almost any ballplayer. If, as a fielder, he was good but not great, as a hitter he was phenomenal. He could steal bases, too.
And then he signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent: $252 million for 10 years. Was he worth it? He had the stats, yes, but the Mariners were always good but not great with him and he seemed to fade in the midst of pennant races (unlike the gritty Jay Buhner or the effortless Ken Griffey Jr.). And … $252 million? Was anyone worth that kind of money?
With the Rangers he continued to put up the numbers, but the team was mediocre. In 2004, he was shipped to the pre-eminent big-money team: the New York Yankees.
The rest is tabloid fodder: his alleged feud with Yankee hero Derek Jeter; his frosty relationship with fans and reporters; and, of course, his use of performance-enhancing drugs. With all the issues, he would never reach Aaron or Bonds; hell, he wouldn’t even get to 700. At one time, the Yankees were counting on him to be a publicity machine as he edged towards the HR record, but by last week, they couldn’t wait for him to become an “adviser.”
Last year, J.R. Moehringer wrote a piece about A-Rod for ESPN. This early paragraph pretty much sums up the conventional view:
PEOPLE HATE HIM. Boy, wow, do they hate him. At first they loved him, and then they were confused by him, and then they were irritated by him, and now they straight-up loathe.
There’s not a single direct quote in the whole piece, just a couple anodyne transcriptions in italics. Why bother, says Moehringer: A-Rod’s quotes are supposed to be like Mentos in Diet Coke, a quick, exciting fizz and then nothing.
But Moehringer isn’t without sympathy for his subject, which is why “The Education of Alex Rodriguez” is my Sunday read. Like so many baseball stories, it’s a story about fathers and sons, fathers and children, but not the way you think. In Moehringer’s take, the robotic ballplayer turns out to be a human being after all.