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.