The stormy Yankees career of Alex Rodriguez received a short, memorable and thunderous sendoff. The much-anticipated ceremony preceding his final game in pinstripes was marked by piercing thunderclaps and abbreviated by a downpour.
Just as Hal Steinbrenner and his wife, Christina, presented Rodriguez a framed matted Yankees jersey No. 13, the entire gathering on the field was rushed into the Yankees’ dugout to get out of the suddenly inclement weather. It could be seen as a fitting finale to a turbulent time, which Rodriguez acknowledged during a news conference three hours earlier.
“With all my screw-ups and how badly I acted, the fact that I’m walking out the door and Hal wants me as part of the family, that’s hitting 800 home runs for me,” said Rodriguez, who entered Friday night with 696 career homers.
He did not have to specify the “screw-ups”: his suspension for being involved with performance-enhancing drugs (after denials that he ever had used them), his suit against Major League Baseball and the Yankees, and his public criticism of the team physician.
Despite all of that, the club wanted to wish him a formal, heartfelt goodbye. So it released statements from former teammates, many of whom will be honored Saturday as part of a 20th anniversary celebration for the 1996 World Series championship team.
Derek Jeter’s statement read: “I’ve spent 22 years playing against, playing with and watching Alex from afar, and there are two things that stand out to me the most: the conversations we had when we were young — hoping for the opportunity to play at the Major League level and then somehow finding a way to stick around — and the championship we won together in 2009. That was a season everyone on that team can cherish.”
Andy Pettitte’s statement reflected on seeing Rodriguez as a young player, adding, “I knew immediately he was going to be special.” Robinson Cano cited A-Rod’s influence on his own formative seasons and said, “He’s one of the best players who ever played.”
In the ceremony, Reggie Jackson escorted Rodriguez’s mother, Lourdes, to the field. Current teammates Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro walked with his brother and sister, Joe and Suzy. And, to a great ovation, Mariano Rivera — who will have his own ceremony Sunday — brought Rodriguez’s daughters, Ella and Natasha, from the dugout.
After a video showing many career highlights, fans heartily cheered Rodriguez as he came onto the field. But they rushed for cover from the rain as the big screen in centerfield showed a message from Lou Piniella, who fondly recalled Rodriguez’s days as a “young pup” when Piniella managed the teenager with the Mariners.
Earlier in the day, Rodriguez said he wished he could have spent five more years playing for Piniella. He also said he wanted this last day as a Yankees player to be an occasion to say thank you to fans, managers and coaches. The elements had more to say in the soaked ceremony for a player who came into the sport with the brilliance of a lightning bolt and had a knack for creating tempests.