Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Alex Rodriguez has been criticized a time or two — or 2,000 — for his behavior off and on the field, and justifiably so.

That is part of what has made the latest turn in his life all the more strange, and interesting. Quite simply, the guy is a studio analyst savant, with just the right mixture of preparation, presentation and personality.

When Fox hired him for the playoffs last year, rave reviews poured in, even from his harshest critics, while he considered it all a bit of a lark. After all, come February, he would be back in uniform in Tampa, right?

Now he is back on the air and as sharp as ever, but this time there is no safety net — other than his set-for-life bank account — because after his release by the Yankees in August, there might be no baseball left for him to play.

So I asked him Monday if he is ready to commit more fully to a television career, at least when he is not busy mentoring Yankees minor-leaguers. Answer: Not yet.

“I haven’t given it any more thought past this year,” he said on a call to preview Fox’s coverage of the World Series. “Literally, as a 10-year-old boy, I had dreams of always being a major league baseball player and kind of trying out my career in business. Those are my dreams. I never thought about broadcasting.”

He first started to do so when Fox executives approached him after the Yankees lost a wild-card game last October. He was able to jump in from the start this autumn, and Fox’s studio panel of Kevin Burkhardt, Pete Rose, Frank Thomas and Rodriguez has developed a quirky chemistry that gained traction on FS1 in earlier playoff rounds.

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In particular, the mostly serious Rodriguez and mostly goofy Rose have played well off each other. Rose chimed in unsolicited Monday after listening to A-Rod discuss his TV work.

“You’ve never been around a guy who prepares more than Alex does,” Rose said. “Alex does his homework. He knows the game. He understands players. He’s into the deal . . . Frank does a great job in preparation, too. I’m the only one that don’t prepare as much as these two guys. I don’t know if that’s because I can’t write or what it is.

“But these guys do their homework and they ask questions and they ask the right questions and then you put that in with our experience, all the things we’ve been through and how good we get along with each other, that’s why it shows up on the TV.”

Fox’s VP of production, Bardia Shah-Rais, told SI.com that he often gets middle-of-the-night emails from A-Rod.

“This is not a hobby for him,” Shah-Rais said. “It’s not a parachute in. He’s invested. If we have a noon meeting, he’s there at 11:30 a.m. He’s emailing story ideas in the morning. He wants research. He’s almost all-in to the point where it’s annoying.”

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Said Thomas, “What’s been great about Alex so far is this is the first time I think the media has seen another side of him to just have fun and be one of the guys. Before he’s always been serious, but now he’s having fun.”