Calling it a “tough day” but also a “proud” one, an at-times tearful Alex Rodriguez announced Sunday morning that he will play his final big-league game Friday at the Stadium against Tampa before assuming an advisory role in which he will report directly to managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
A-Rod, who is stuck on 696 home runs and described his last month essentially fastened to the bench as “very painful and embarrassing,” will collect all of the approximately $27 million left on his 10-year contract.
Officially, the 41-year-old will be unconditionally released Friday, then sign a contract to “serve as a special advisor and instructor,” according to the club.
“We all want to play forever,” Rodriguez said during a press conference that included the entirety of the Yankees’ roster sitting in the back, as well as Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, there representing the Steinbrenner family. “Accepting the end gracefully is part of being a professional athlete.”
A-Rod, who said the decision was not forced upon him by Hal Steinbrenner — though he occasionally provided answers that suggested he felt compelled to accept the owner’s offer — said he will return “home” to Miami after next Friday and begin his “duties” as an advisor and instructor next spring training. The arrangement runs through Dec. 31, 2017.
“Alex has already proven to be a willing and effective mentor to many players who have come through our clubhouse, and I am confident that this next phase of his baseball life will bring out the best in Alex and the next generation of Yankees,” Steinbrenner said in a statement.
Rodriguez said he finalized things with Steinbrenner last Wednesday when the owner was in town. According to club insiders Steinbrenner also met at length with Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman Tuesday and Wednesday, meetings in which, presumably, at least some of Sunday’s news was discussed.
The majority of Steinbrenner’s discussions with A-Rod took place on Tuesday, over the phone, and then in person Wednesday.
A-Rod said “I’m not going to share” what occurred in his conversations with Steinbrenner, only saying “I was incredibly humbled and flattered” by the role offered.
A club spokesperson, speaking for Steinbrenner Sunday afternoon, said the owner laid out to Rodriguez the team’s plan for the next two months which included two or three more prospects being called up and, hence, likely continued bench time for A-Rod, but never delivered an ultimatum of any kind.
“This is another way I can bring value to the franchise,” Rodriguez said. “I’m 41 years old, I played 22 years in the major leagues. That’s half my adult life. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences, good and bad, with the young kids.”
But Rodriguez, who has a .204/.252/.356 slash line in 62 games this season, with nine homers and 29 RBI and just seven plate appearances since July 29, also hinted he felt nudged — even if ever-so-slightly — rather than outright choosing retirement.
He said the “last four weeks have not been fun.”
“It’s been awkward,” he said of riding the bench. “So from that stance, I’m very happy we found this solution. Management has told me that I would get a few at-bats on Friday so I am excited about that. For Boston? That’s up to Joe. I haven’t been told, but I am very excited about Friday.”
Said Girardi: “If he wants to play in every game (through Friday), I’ll find a way.”
The Yankees start a three-game series at Fenway Park Tuesday.
Asked about possibly ending his career with 696 homers, the three-time AL MVP and 14-time All-Star almost wistfully described a potential chase to become the fourth member of the 700-homer club as being “unbelievably fun.”
He added: “Those were not the cards I was dealt.”
Cashman, who spoke after Rodriguez at the press conference, said “I don’t think it was a forced situation.”
“Everything I got from Hal and Alex was nothing was forced,” Cashman said. “I think it’s a new opportunity. I look forward to him impacting our young players. He’s just going to help us in a different way.”
Cashman and Girardi both said A-Rod is “free to change his mind,” and pursue other playing opportunities should they arise.
Rodriguez, who tabbed the 2009 World Series title as his predominant career memory, did not sound as if that option is in the cards, either, though he didn’t outright shut the door on it.
“I have not thought beyond the pinstripes,” he said.
Rodriguez’s legacy, of course, is complicated. Judging him solely on the numbers, he is among the all-time great players. But, obviously, his career has been as much about things that have occurred off the field as on it, led by his association with PEDs and a season-long suspension in 2014.
“That’s not for me to say,” he said of how he wished to be remembered. “I do want to be remembered as someone who’s madly in love with baseball. Hopefully I’ll be remembered as someone who tripped and fell a lot but kept getting up.”