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Long before I began writing about baseball, Alex Rodriguez was traded to the New York Yankees and I faintly remember thinking they were ridiculously lucky he did not end up with the Boston Red Sox. Years of ups and downs, one World Series title and an embarrassing suspension make me wonder how lucky they truly were.
The failed deal to Boston, opened up the window for the Yankees to snag Rodriguez for Alfonso Soriano, and better yet, the Texas Rangers were going to chip in $67 million to help offset the remaining $179 million on A-Rod's 10-year, $252 million deal. The Yankees had just lost the 2003 World Series to the then Florida Marlins and Rodriguez was the new free agent toy for the free-spending Yanks.
Rodriguez was arguably the best hitter in the game and he would now be part of an impressive left side of the infield with the Yankees' tenured shortstop Derek Jeter, who was still in his prime. Rodriguez conceded that it was Jeter's team and quite honestly from that moment on, Rodriguez's persona became one of trying to do too much and it might have led him to decisions he will regret forever.
Rodriguez put up massive numbers with the Yankees from 2004 through 2007 (173 home runs and 513 RBIs combined) and amassed two MVP awards but a World Series title was elusive. He owned an opt-out clause in his contract, one of the first of its kind. Rodriguez created a public relations nightmare when he announced he was opting out of his deal in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series. It presented him as selfish, and that he wanted - maybe needed - to be in the limelight.
The Yankees (namely owner George Steinbrenner and his children Hank and Hal) had no intentions to lose their most talented player. Jeter was the image, but Rodriguez did the most damage. Rodriguez knew this and wanted desperately to prove he could help deliver the Yankees their 27th World Series title despite poor production in the playoffs to that point with New York. Despite the chance to go to any of the other 29 ballclubs, Rodriguez believed he had to stay under the bright lights of New York.
He got his wish of the spotlight, but not all the news was good. The Mitchell Report, which told the story of a deep performance-enhancing drug problem in the game, came out the same day Rodriguez signed his 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees. Rodriguez's name was not in the report, but not long after the report was released, former teammate Jose Canseco accused Rodriguez of taking steroids with him when with the Rangers. Rodriguez flat-out told 60 Minutes that he never took performance-enhancing drugs.
In 2008, the Yankees failed to make the playoffs despite Rodriguez's .302 average, 35 home runs and 103 RBIs. Missing the postseason was intolerable to the Yankees, so they went out and signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett before the 2009 season. The excitement of the season was dampened before spring training kicked into gear when Sports Illustrated reported that Rodriguez was one of the players who tested positive during survey testing in 2003.
Rodriguez finally copped to using performance-enhancing drugs, admitting to using while with the Rangers from 2001-03. Rodriguez claimed he never used performance-enhancing drugs while with the Yankees. However, the damage was done. His image, which he so desperately tried to pump up, took a major hit across the game.
The year got harder for Rodriguez when he then was diagnosed with a cyst on his right hip, which required surgery and forced him to miss the first several weeks of the regular season. Upon his return, some Yankees fans stuck behind Rodriguez, but he took a good deal of taunting no matter where he went around the league.
Despite Rodriguez's fall from grace with his public image, he had another stellar season in 2009 (30 homers, 100 RBIs in just 124 games), but this time he also pitched in during the playoffs and the Yankees went on to win the World Series. Rodriguez hit .365 during the 2009 postseason with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 52 at-bats.
The good vibes from the World Series victory did not last long. In March 2010, Rodriguez was connected to Toronto physician Anthony Galea, who was under federal investigation for drug violations. Rodriguez denied obtaining performance-enhancing drugs from Galea and the doctor proclaimed the same. It seemed that Rodriguez could not step away from links to performance-enhancing drugs despite his insistence he was clean.
From 2011-13 Rodriguez played in just 258 games and his performance began to decline. His OPS dipped below .800 in 2012 for the first time since 1995. He had a second hip surgery in January 2013, this time on the left side. A couple of weeks later, a revelation sprouted forever etched in Rodriguez's legacy.
Rodriguez was once again immersed in a drug scandal, this time with a Florida anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis, run by Anthony Bosch. Bosch was being investigated by Major League Baseball and the New York Daily News and the Miami New Times reported within days of each other that Rodriguez was connected. True to his previous reactions, Rodriguez immediately denied any wrongdoing, claiming the documents the Miami New Times retrieved were bogus.
By July 2013, MLB was pushing hard for a suspension and Rodriguez began to feel the heat. Come early August, Rodriguez and his camp were critical of MLB and the Yankees, claiming the whole thing was a ruse in an effort to get him out of the game so that the club did not have to pay his salary. Rodriguez was finally suspended Aug. 5, 2013 for 211 games, which he immediately appealed.
Rodriguez played out the remainder of the 2013 season and then went to arbitration directly following the season. This is where Rodriguez went off the deep end. He sued MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig. Next, he sued the Yankees team physician Chris Ahmad and Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Finally, he sued the Major League Baseball Players Association. On Jan. 11, 2014, Rodriguez's fate was sealed, hit with a 162-game ban from the arbiter.
Rodriguez burned a lot of bridges during his year away from the game, but he was determined to come back in 2015. Many, including myself, could not believe a player approaching 40-years old with two bum hips and one year removed from game action could make an impact.
Rodriguez showed up to spring training on a mission; prove he was fully capable of succeeding in the game he loved. Rodriguez vowed he would be different off the field. He apologized to whoever would listen, and proclaimed to be fully vested in baseball and baseball only. Rodriguez was saying all the right things. Once he showed a new side to his personality and he began to hit, plenty of Yankees fans jumped on the A-Rod bandwagon.
Personally, I had a problem bringing myself to buy into the new A-Rod. I was suspect of anything he said because not much of what he had stated - demanded at times - in the previous five or six years was true. That said, he was on the team, he was going to play so that meant hoping he could help the team succeed. He did.
Rodriguez and the Yankees were still on the outs and as Rodriguez neared tying Willie Mays on the all-time home run list with No. 660, things became contentious between the parties again. The Yankees claimed a home run bonus contract they had with Rodriguez, worth a $6 million for multiple home run milestones, was no longer marketable because Rodriguez's home run tally was tainted by his admittance to performance-enhancing drugs and his recent suspension.
The Yankees stated the bonus was not simply for reaching the number, but was intended to allow them to build a marketing bonanza around the home run chase. Rodriguez enlisted the union to help his cause. Eventually, wiser heads prevailed, as Rodriguez and the Yankees agreed to give $3.5 million to various charities.
The compromise might have been the first step to mending fences with the organization, and for the most part, fans sided with Rodriguez believing the club was simply trying to save their money. The next phase to a better relationship took hold as Rodriguez continued to bash home runs and display production not seen since 2010.
Rodriguez was becoming a folk hero for some in New York. He was pleasant to the media; he praised the team, his teammates and his manager. Rodriguez was having fun and doing well on the field and the Yankees held a seven-game lead in the American League East at the All-Star break.
Alas, Rodriguez began to slow down in August and lasted through the end of the season. However, the Yankees and their fans now expected Rodriguez to aid the club's plight in 2016. Sadly, nothing clicked for Rodriguez straight from the beginning of the season. His bat slowed and his production at the plate was virtually nonexistent.
As the Yankees suffered inconsistency across the board, they found themselves in a position to be sellers at the trade deadline. As quickly as the Yankees used to spend money, they traded high profile relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller as well as their best hitter, Carlos Beltran. The Yankees had already begun to move on from Rodriguez as he was relegated to the bench July 22.
By early August, the most recent circus began. Yankees beat reporters, national baseball media, bloggers and fans began to question why bother keeping Rodriguez on the roster. I suggested his release at the beginning of July, arguing that if the team was going to go full-born into a rebuild it could not involve a severely declining Rodriguez.
Instead of the Yankees simply cutting ties with Rodriguez and releasing him, they tried to do it while making it look like they were doing him a favor. The meeting, in which the plan was devised, was between just owner and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and Rodriguez. It is likely that Rodriguez persuaded Steinbrenner to let him play one last game in Yankee Stadium in front of his family.
While that seems like a cool and proper thing to do, it has created a firestorm only Rodriguez could find himself in the middle. The reason; Yankees manager Joe Girardi believes his team still has a run in it. He wants to win and believes that Rodriguez in the lineup provides no benefit. Girardi felt as such well before the retirement/release announcement, but he was being questioned for his actions with Rodriguez as just five games remained before his final appearance Friday.
Many of the same people who asked why the Yankees wouldn't simply release Rodriguez, were now asking why couldn't he play in the final week? The Yanks made a mistake with how this was handled because while the team has not looked anything like a playoff team for more than a week or two at a time this season, they find themselves just 3.5 games back of the second wild card spot in a weak American League.
Looking back through Rodriguez's career, his play on the field balanced or outweighed any controversy off it. Rodriguez enters Friday's play in a 4-for-42 funk, but he will be in the starting lineup. Rodriguez has a chance to have one last proud moment with the Yankees.
The relationship between Rodriguez and the Yankees rode a roller coaster as virtually every positive performance or display off the field was eventually met with a thud. The cheating, the lies and the threats made Rodriguez unappealing to many in and out of the organization.
Rodriguez maintained a faction of fans who bought into the new persona. I do not begrudge those who fell in love with Rodriguez and I admit listening to Rodriguez since his return has been better than expected, but I never came around to care about anything more than what he did on the field. In a way, I'm like the Yankees with how this situation has unfolded. The truth is, he was not performing and there is no indication that was going to change. Therefore, in my view, the time was right for a final break in the relationship on the field.
If Rodriguez truly stays in the organization as an adviser, he has some value. His teammates look up to him and he is certainly a student of the game. Nevertheless, Rodriguez is not part of the future 25-man roster; he is a piece of an era the Yankees are now desperately looking to put behind them. Friday night, the Yankees will get their wish.