Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Credit is due to the Yankees for making A-Rod’s exit drama-free

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If, two or three years ago, you had to bet how Alex Rodriguez‘s exit from the New York Yankees was going to eventually go down, the smart money would’ve been on outcomes ranging from “rancorous litigation” to “pistols at dawn.” The odds against “special farewell night dedicated to the man, his salary paid-in-full and Rodriguez assuming an advisory position on the team” were so long that they weren’t worth calculating. Indeed, they would’ve triggered alarms at the state gambling commission.

Yet here we are. A-Rod got to have a press conference — without lawyers — yesterday and on Friday he’ll get to tip his cap to the fans in Yankee Stadium, see highlights from his career on the Jumbotron, try to ignore flashbulbs with each pitch he is thrown and, when it is all over, leave the field to a standing ovation. It’s almost as if he’s just like any other all-time great.

A lot of this was made possible by Rodriguez himself, of course. After his scorched Earth campaign around the time of his suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal in 2013 he retreated to Miami and, by all outward appearances, became a changed man. He called off his lawyers, went to school, spent time with his kids, worked out hard and, it seems, began to appreciate all of the things which he had almost completely lost. His bounceback 2015 season and, more importantly, his team-first attitude and newfound self-awareness and aversion to controversy, made it conceivable that, yes, Alex Rodriguez could very well leave the game on his own terms. Or at least something close to them.

But it was the Yankees who always controlled the exact circumstances of A-Rod’s departure. Despite being on the hook for tens of millions of dollars between 2015 and 2017, the Yankees could’ve always just decided they didn’t want Rodriguez back following his year-long suspension. They could’ve released him and stepped away from what they might’ve reasonably feared would be a renewed A-Rod Circus. They could’ve eaten his entire salary and traded him to a team willing to take a flier on an intriguing DH possibility and a potential box office draw. They never had to let him suit up in pinstripes in 2015 and, after he faltered at the end of that year and well into this year, they could’ve just unceremoniously pulled the plug with nothing more than a curt goodbye and a single line on the transaction wire.

That they didn’t do that and that they are, instead, giving A-Rod, in effect, a five-day farewell tour capped off by a farewell night, is quite admirable and quite honorable. Given that he’s really unable to play anymore and given where the Yankees are on the rebuild cycle, it’d be too much to just guarantee his roster spot through 2017 like some clubs might’ve done for a declining superstar. And, of course, the relationship between the Yankees and A-Rod has enough of a rocky history to suggest that pushing things that far was never in the cards. But no one really expected that it would end this nicely, all things considered. With a farewell game, a seemingly satisfied A-Rod and the chance for him to ease into an advisory role with the club after his playing career is over.

Last night Jon Heyman gave some of the background on how this all came about. It was mostly the doing of Hal Steinbrenner who, realizing that A-Rod’s position on the team was becoming untenable and realizing that it would soon become a daily item in the tabloids, flew up to New York to talk to A-Rod and to convince him to accept his impending release with grace. It’s a chance that the Yankees organization would never have given him a couple of years ago and, to be fair, one which A-Rod never would’ve accepted then either. A-Rod is getting a lot of credit for stepping away quietly, but Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees are deserving of praise for extending the offer when they did and how they did.

Maybe there’s a chance that pistols are still drawn and maybe there’s enough time between now and Friday for the old A-Rod/Yankees circus to put up the tent one least time and give us all something to gawk at. But for now the only thing that is truly eye-opening is just how much both sides, the Yankees and Rodriguez, have grown and how thoroughly they’ve let go of the past.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Marlins 10, Rockies 7: Congratulations to Ichiro for his 3,000th major league hit. A triple no less, showing that at least some dudes over 40 still have great wheels. He’s also only the second guy to have his 3,000th hit be a triple, with Paul Molitor being the other. Molitor was Ichiro’s hitting coach in Seattle for a time and after the game Ichiro have Molitor a nod. He’ll be joining Molitor in Cooperstown the first time he’s eligible for induction. Lost in the history and in the loss was the fact that the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado homered twice and drove in five.

Yankees 3, Indians 2: A-Rod announced his retirement (or whatever it is) but doesn’t get into the game. Fellow short timer Mark Teixeira, however, hit an RBI double. He’s had extra-base hits in four of his past five games, actually, and is hitting quite well for a guy who is hanging it up. Maybe this means A-Rod will get a big hit, like, Tuesday or something.

Mets 3, Tigers 1: Neil Walker hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie and give the Mets the win. He hit it off of Francisco Rodriguez who, despite getting the save on Saturday night, was shaky as hell doing it, requiring a putout on a play at the plate in order to stave off disaster. All of which is to say that the Tigers usual trouble — the bullpen — will likely be a source of problems as they try to make up those two games the Indians have on ’em.

Twins 6, Rays 3: Miguel Sano was rumored to be on his way back to the minors late last week. Here he homered twice. He also became the first player to hit a ball off the roof at Tropicana Field. Many have hit catwalks, but none have hit the roof. It ended up being an F-5, though, because Evan Longoria caught it.

Nationals 1, Giants 0: A tough luck loss for Madison Bumgarner, who went the distance yet gave up one run while Tanner Roark and two Nats relievers combined for a five-hit shutout. Bumgarner’s only blemish: A solo homer to Wilson Ramos in the 7th. Ramos is hitting .338/.387/.556 with 18 homers and 62 RBI. Ramos is a free agent this offseason. I feel like someone is gonna give him a really bad contract based on what looks like a fluke season. Kind of like Javy Lopez after the 2003 season.

Reds 7, Pirates 3: The Reds may be the most entertaining bad team in baseball. Billy Hamilton is a big part of that and yesterday he was particularly fun: four stolen bases, three hits and three runs scored. He also made a leaping catch. I sure hope he figures out how to get on base more than he does so that this kind of fun can happen more often. Maybe that’s too much to ask for a nearly 26-year-old player, but even if we just get one breakthrough season in which some balls find their way through the infield and he hits .315 or something with a .355 OBP, man, that would be something.

Orioles 10, White Sox 2: Manny Machado hit three homers in three innings and drove in seven. He didn’t get any hits for the rest of the day but if you come in and get all your work done early, you’re allowed to loaf by the water cooler all afternoon. Dylan Bundy didn’t need to pitch well with all of the run support he got but he did anyway, allowing two runs and striking out nine dudes over six innings.

Rangers 5, Astros 3: The manner in which the Rangers won was new — Ian Desmond and Rougned Odor hits in the 11th inning — but the fact that they beat the Astros was not. that’s 11 of 13 from Houston on the year, which explains at least part of their seven and a half game lead over Houston in the AL West. Only seven over Seattle, who has gotten past the Astros. Houston has lost 8 of 10 overall, so maybe it’s not just about their divisional foes. “Anytime I leave this podium after a loss I hate it,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said after the game. Give the man credit for knowing the difference between a podium and a lectern. 95% of people get that one wrong.

Royals 7, Blue Jays 1: It was close until the seventh when Kendrys Morlaes hit a grand slam. A decent start for Yordano Ventura, who hasn’t had many decent starts lately.

Braves 6, Cardinals 3: Atlanta took two of three from the Cards, and took them pretty decisively. This is not technically the Cardinals’ low point of the season — they’re 11.5 back now and were 12.5 back for a day in late June — but it may be their low point cosmically speaking. Matt Kemp had two hits and an RBI, Nick Markakis and Erick Aybar had two RBI each and Mike Foltynewicz allowed one run over six innings.

Cubs 3, Athletics 1: Kyle Hendricks allowed one run while pitching into the eighth. Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler homered. The Cubs sweep the A’s. Their seventh straight win gives them 69 on the season. Nice.

Mariners 3, Angels 1: James Paxton allowed one run — unearned — while pitching into the ninth. He only left because he took a line drive off his arm. X-Rays were negative, though, which is positive. Mike Trout struck out four times, but he also saved four runs by stealing a grand slam with a spectacular catch.

Diamondbacks 9, Brewers 3Jake Lamb and Phil Gosselin each hit two-run homers. The Dbacks had five extra-base hits in their five-run fifth inning. Speaking of, does anyone else remember 5 from “Peanuts?” I used to get all of the old “Peanuts” compilations and treasuries from the entire run of the strip and I loved 5. He was a pretty damn subversive character for the comics in the early 1960s.

Phillies 6, Padres 5Tommy Joseph hit a tie-breaking RBI single in the top of the seventh inning, but Maikel Franco and the Phillies D helped hold that slim lead with a triple play in the bottom half of the inning:

 

A nice around-the-horn job too, not one of those weird ones with a line drive and a couple of boring runners-getting-doubled-off deals.

Dodgers 8, Red Sox 5: Rob Segedin made his major league debut for the Dodgers, playing left field, and all he did was go 2-for-4 with a double and four RBI. Adrian Gonzalez his his 300th career homer. Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner hit homers too.

Alex Rodriguez: one of the all-time greats whether you liked him or not

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Do you ever sit down at a bar and talk about an athlete’s “legacy” with the guy at the next stool over? Have you ever had a big conversation about a ballplayer’s “legacy” around the office water cooler? Have you ever, while driving home from the ballpark with your kids after a game, talked excitedly of the “legacy” of a player you just saw?

Pretty unlikely. Maybe you talk about some off-the-field matter or another if it’s in the news, but for the most part fans talk about games and home runs and strikeouts and whether a player is good or bad, fun to watch or not fun to watch. An athlete’s “legacy,” taken as a whole, is a topic for journalists and historians. They are writers and maintainers of legacies. Most of us are just fans who watch baseball for its entertainment value.

I mention this because, in the few hours since Alex Rodriguez‘s press conference — whether it’s truly a “retirement” is probably the subject of another post — I’ve seen a lot of talk about his “complicated legacy.”  About his scandals and his tabloid persona and just how difficult a person he was and is. I’ve seen very few people talking simply about Alex Rodriguez as a ballplayer. Maybe because it’s problematic for people who concern themselves with his legacy — almost always cast in the most negative possible light — to acknowledge that he was one of the best ballplayers to ever play the game.

Which he was. It’s undeniable. For a decade he was the best shortstop alive, and one of the two or three best shortstops to ever live. For close to another decade after that he continued to be one of the best hitters alive and one of the best all-around players to have ever lived despite moving to a different position. We could measure this a hundred different ways — I’ll leave it to the number crunchers to properly contextualize it all — but I would hope it would not take number crunchers to convince you that an infielder with nearly 700 homers, over 2,000 RBI a .930 career OPS, over 300 stolen bases, three MVP awards, 14 All-Star appearances, the most career grand slams of anyone ever and a 2009 playoff performance in which he took the most storied franchise in baseball history, placed it on his back and carried the a World Series title was one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

But then comes the idea of “legacy,” and with it all of the topics which have understandably dominated the conversation about Alex Rodriguez for the past several years. His PED use. His year-long ban and his multidirectional lashing out at baseball, the union and his the Yankees in the runup to it. Every other story and side story which accompanied it. It’s obviously a huge part of the story about Alex Rodriguez and one that, if you’re in the business of legacy documentation, you cannot ignore. And which I would not suggest anyone should ignore. Facts are facts and those things happened and they will obviously color people’s opinions of Alex Rodriguez going forward just as they have in the past.

But those things are only a part of the Alex Rodriguez Story, they’re not the whole story. Indeed, they’re a much smaller part of the story than they have come to comprise in the mind of the legacy documentarians and those who listen to them. They have become so big a part of it that we have, for several years now, almost completely ceased to look at Alex Rodriguez as a baseball player as opposed to some tabloid figure or as the repository of whatever “complicated legacy” we wish to compose.

A-Rod’s cheating is obviously going to impact his Hall of Fame candidacy because such things have impacted nearly every PED-associated player’s Hall of Fame case. His 696 home runs and 2,000+ RBI can, if one wants to think about it, be viewed with some sort of an invisible asterisk and adjusted downward. His status as “the best” vs. “one of the best” can be debated and we can and probably should talk about what he was versus what he might have been if he had proceeded differently throughout his career or if he had played in a different era. We as fans don’t usually talk about “complicated legacies” like people in the media do, but it’s clear his career was complicated.

What we should not do — and what far, far, far too many people do with Alex Rodriguez — is to claim that the complicated nature of his career negated his career. To claim that any given home run we enjoyed — or, if we were rooting against A-Rod, enraged us — did not happen. To claim that he was nothing more than an oddity or a villain or that he was something less than one of the greatest players to every lace up a pair of cleats. That that’s the case even if we discount any one of his statistics, even if we find him to be seriously lacking in integrity and character and even if we simply loathe him, as I know many of you do.

The greatest trick the media of the Steroid Era ever pulled was to convince people that baseball was first and foremost a referendum on authenticity or character rather than a form of entertainment. To be sure, one can care about authenticity. One can care about steroids and cheating (especially if one was a player who lost a chance because someone else was cheating). But the degree to which such matters have come to obscure the entertainment value of the players and the games is absurd. At least for and especially for fans who consume baseball games as entertainment, not as referenda on morality and authenticity.

Yankees fans would not trade in their memories of the 2009 World Series. Anyone who has enjoyed a thrilling moment at a baseball game provided by Alex Rodriguez, of which there have been many, cannot claim with a straight face that they did not enjoy that moment at the time. Those things happened. Alex Rodriguez’s career happened and, even if you want to mentally deduct some from his stat line here or there or argue that he shouldn’t be honored with induction into the Hall of Fame, that career was fantastic. It was one of the best careers any baseball player has ever turned in, full stop.

When you think about any player and his legacy, think about why you started watching baseball and why you continue to watch baseball. Ask yourself, when thinking about a player, whether you enjoyed his play or not and why. When you do, ask yourself if your negative or positive feelings about the player have a logical connection to the reasons you watch the game or if, rather, someone else’s values — like that of some radio host or columnist or keeper of legacies — have inordinately colored them.

I suggest that any honest assessment of Alex Rodriguez along these lines should result in the judgment that baseball was better for him having played it, not worse. A judgment that, because of him, baseball was far more entertaining than if he had not played. A judgment that Alex Rodriguez was an all-time great. That he was an all-time great even despite his perfidies and shortcomings. That he was an all-time great whether you liked him or whether you didn’t.