Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez announced his retirement from baseball today.
I streamed his press-conference at work Sunday and had to explain to a customer why I was crying as I watched. He was unfazed because to him, seeing A-Rod hang up his cleats after 22 years is not reason enough to cry. Maybe I was just overly tired, maybe I was just caught up in the moment, but watching Alex tear up with acknowledgment of his career in pinstripes ending and seeing him cry as he spoke about his daughters made me all kinds of weepy.
I have always been in awe of the career Alex has put together. I remember seeing highlights of his as a little girl and always hearing his name during broadcasts. I remember hearing about his massive contracts and his famous girlfriends. I remember when he went to the Yankees, a team I had yet to become a fan of. He became the ultimate villain: talented, charming, blithe, controversial, well-paid, selfish. He was the man you hated unless he was on your team, and even then, some who loved the Yankees didn’t care for him. I remember the sadness and disappointment I felt when I heard his name surface in the Biogenesis reports and I remember the anger I felt when he was suspended for a year. The anger was directed towards MLB, who in my mind, went on a witch hunt – a sort of last hurrah for Bud Selig and a way to make up for not doing anything during the Steroid Era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Most importantly, I remember the joy of watching Alex humbling himself and having a resurgent 2015 season, showing the world a glimpse of the man he strives to be.
But once you peel back the layers of who Alex is, you see a man who was blessed with a God-Given talent to hit a baseball. You see a man who had enormous expectations placed on him at a young age and you see a man who lived up to those expectations and then some. You also see a man burdened by those expectations and the compulsive need to please everyone. You see a fragile ego that often needed boosting by women, luxury, and yes, PEDs. You see a man who clubbed more grand slams than anyone in history. You see a man who came four home runs shy of 700. You see a man who has 2,084 RBIs and 3,114 hits. You see a man with 10 Silver Slugger awards, 3 MVP awards, 2 gold gloves, and 1 World Series ring. You see someone who put up some of the greatest numbers in baseball history, but still felt the need to use PEDs. But, perhaps most importantly, you see a man who is an excellent father to two beautiful girls and a man who is trying his hardest to become a better person.
There are so many players that I idolize, but Alex might be one of my favorites because he is human. And by that I mean he has never been a cookie-cutter baseball player and you never knew what you were going to hear when he opened his mouth. His ups and downs were something everyone could relate to, even if it was not on such a grand scale. His hubris and his allowance of fans to see behind the baseball curtain these last few years invited you to take a fresh look at a man so many had already painted in a certain light. His story of a second chance is something every person knows well because everyone, at some point in their lives, has needed a second chance. The story of Alex Rodriguez is not something that can be neatly folded into a box and tied up with a ribbon; his story and his career are far more complex. The story of Derek Jeter’s career, for example, can be put into a small paragraph, but the story of Alex’s career is longer than a Stephen King novel.
The haters have already come out in full force, saying that Alex should be denied a spot in the Hall of Fame. They say his accomplishments should come with an asterisk. But I can’t help but wonder why so many people think they are on a moral high-horse. He never killed another human. He never physically hurt someone (other than in bench-clearing brawls). He’s never hurt a woman. He took PEDs. That’s his biggest baseball transgression. But here’s the thing: PEDs don’t allow you to have the God-given talent Alex has. PEDs don’t make you universally liked by all of the teammates who have played with you. PEDs don’t make you give considerable time and money to charity. PEDs don’t make you a good father. I know that not everyone will admire and idolize Alex the way that I do, but I do ask that they at least acknowledge that he is one of the greatest players who ever played the game. He was, and will always be, one of the greats whether you like him or not. And yes, he 100% belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Alex Rodriguez will leave a long, complicated legacy. He will be remembered in as many ways as you can count. I will remember him as a brilliant, if flawed, baseball prodigy. I will remember him as someone who gave everything he had to the game he loved and as someone who will continue to give to the game as he gets older. He says he was always meant to be a teacher and I can’t wait to watch him tutor the younger generation of players. I will remember him as the anti-hero we all needed in our lives, and as the man whose redemption story is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.
At his press conference this morning his said poignantly, “I do want to be remembered as someone who was madly in love with the game of baseball, someone who loves it at every level. Someone who loves to learn it, play it, teach it, coach it. And also, I’m going to be hopefully remembered as someone who tripped and fell a lot, but someone that kept getting up.”
Thank you, Alex, for everything you’ve given to baseball. Thank you for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thank you for showing everyone that it’s okay to trip and fall, as long as you get back up. Thank you for 22 great years and for allowing a girl from Arizona to grow up with you. I don’t know what I will do without you playing baseball, but I do know that I can’t wait for whatever you do next.