The Alex Rodriguez saga never seems to have a final chapter, so the only fact gleaned from Sunday’s news conference is that A-Rod will appear in his last game for the Yankees on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
Far less certain is whether he will attempt a comeback with another team next year or even after Friday’s game, when he is to be officially released. His tears Sunday could have been interpreted as a farewell to the Yankees more than to his career.
“All he is doing is thinking about Friday and playing his last game in front of Yankees fans,’’ Ron Berkowitz, Rodriguez’s publicist, wrote in an email. “He is very appreciative of the opportunity Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees have presented him.’’
So the end of his playing career may be in sight or on hold. But just in case, while wondering what may lie ahead, it seems a good time to look back at his 22-season big-league career.
Rodriguez, 41, was born in Manhattan’s Washington Heights section but was raised mainly in Miami. At about age 8, he was recruited, so to speak, by James Colzie Jr., who was coaching a youth baseball team.
“We were practicing at Everglades Elementary School,’’ Colzie said Thursday. “We had like eight guys. We needed another guy. He was on the jungle gym. His mannerisms, the way he caught the ball. We have to teach kids about skip and throw. He already had that at a young age.’’
Rodriguez parlayed his talent into high school stardom, and the Mariners made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft. He immediately drew comparisons to Derek Jeter, a Class A player in the Yankees’ minor-league system.
“Similar to Jeter only bigger and better,” scout Roger Jongewaard wrote in his report. Unbeknownst to everyone, that was the first installment in the Jeter-Rodriguez relationship that would have its ups and downs in later years.
Rodriguez looked like an instant star before he played a big-league game.
“The first time I saw Alex Rodriguez swing a bat, I was in Instructional League,’’ said his longtime friend and former teammate, Raul Ibañez, now an ESPN analyst. “I caught his swing peripherally. He was in the batting cage and I asked, ‘Who’s that guy?’ I just watched him take about three or four swings and I said that guy’s going to be the next Juan Gonzalez. I since apologized to Alex because he became much more than Gonzalez.’’
Rodriguez’s stay with the Mariners was largely free of controversy, though he was said to have had an uneven relationship with reigning star Ken Griffey Jr. Rodriguez became a free agent after the 2000 season and signed a record $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers.
“We were excited to get him,’’ former Rangers hitting instructor Rudy Jaramillo said.
Then came the cockiness that earmarked the younger version of Rodriguez. “I remember him asking a question that was real blunt,’’ Jaramillo said. “He said, ‘What can you do for me?’ ’’
“Best player in the game,’’ Mark Teixeira said of Rodriguez, his teammate with the Rangers in 2003. “He was the best shortstop defensively. He was the best hitter. He could do everything. When that guy was on the field, he made people show up to the stadium and marvel at his talent.’’
Rodriguez had three of the best seasons in baseball history from 2001-03 with a total of 156 homers and 395 runs batted in. He was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2003 and twice with the Yankees, in 2005 and 2007.
Rift with Jeter and PEDs
Rodriguez and Jeter were quite close when they were young major-leaguers, but their relationship was damaged when the Texas slugger was interviewed in Esquire in the spring of 2001. “Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him. He’s never had to lead’’ was one of the hot-button quotes.
Jeter, well-known for humility but less so for never letting go of a perceived slight, at the time said of Rodriguez’s comment: “It didn’t come out good.’’
Their overall relationship as teammates could be described as tepid. Note that Rodriguez didn’t announce the end of his Yankees career on Jeter’s athlete-friendly website, The Players’ Tribune.
Rodriguez would have much more important concerns than regaining Jeter’s friendship after being traded to the Yankees before the 2004 season. After announcing that he was exercising an opt-out of his deal during the final game of the 2007 World Series, drawing heavy criticism for his timing, he dropped agent Scott Boras and eventually signed a 10-year agreement in another record deal, this time for $275 million. It was negotiated by co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner over the reported objections of general manager Brian Cashman.
In the spring of 2009, Rodriguez admitted he had used a “banned substance’’ from 2001 through 2003 with the Rangers. He previously denied using performance-enhancing drugs, most notably in a 2007 interview with Katie Couric on CBS’ “60 Minutes.’’
Knowing that Rodriguez’s production as a Ranger might have been aided by PEDs did not make Jaramillo think less of his former player. “Heck, we all make mistakes, sometimes more than one,’’ he said. “He’s human.”
Ibañez said A-Rod has made amends and added, “I think Alex Rodriguez had Hall of Fame talent and a Hall of Fame brain from the moment he signed a professional contract.’’
Drop-off in production, scandal
In 2009, Rodriguez had a 30-home run, 100-RBI season and starred in the World Series for the victorious Yankees, hitting six home runs and driving in 18 runs in 15 games during that postseason. He went 30 and 125 in 2010 and, with 613 home runs, appeared to have a good chance to surpass Barry Bonds’ record of 762, but injuries limited his production in the remaining years of his contract.
In 2012, Ibañez pinch hit for Rodriguez in Game 3 of the ALDS and belted a solo homer to tie the score in the ninth inning. Ibañez hit another to beat the Orioles in the 12th.
“It was actually one of the most difficult moments of my professional career,’’ Ibañez said. “Joe [Girardi] came down and I think he said, ‘You’re hitting second.’ I was trying to figure out who I was hitting for, and when I found out it was Alex, it was very uncomfortable because of the immense respect I have for everything that he has done on the baseball field. He was hurt during that time, it was a tough call for Joe. Alex was the first one on the top step of the dugout when I came in to greet me.’’
Another PED scandal ensnared Rodriguez when Major League Baseball launched an investigation in 2013 into Biogenesis, a since-closed clinic in Coral Gables, Florida. MLB imposed a 210-game suspension that was reduced to 162 games by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz. In a highly contentious and lengthy appeal of the punishment, Rodriguez, who wound up being suspended for the entire 2014 season, ended the hearing by storming out after reportedly calling Rob Manfred, then chief operating officer of MLB, an expletive and saying he no longer would participate.
Rodriguez launched lawsuits against MLB, then-commissioner Bud Selig and his own Players Association. He also filed a malpractice suit against the Yankees’ team doctor and New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. But Rodriguez abruptly dropped all the suits. Berkowitz said he did not like the impact they were having on his family, his friends and himself.
Joe Tacopina, Rodriguez’s lead attorney during the appeal of his suspension, said Thursday: “Legal positions aside, right and wrong aside, whether we could have prevailed in the federal court aside, Alex made the decision solely based on what at the time was best for him as a human being and as someone who wanted a future in baseball. I think it’s as simple as that.’’
After serving his suspension, Rodriguez entered the 2015 season with the enthusiasm of a rookie and rebounded with 33 homers and 86 RBIs. His attitude was noticed by Manfred, who had replaced Selig as commissioner, and Rodriguez was asked to join him at MLB-sponsored functions.
“I tried to treat Alex the same way that we treat all suspended players,’’ Manfred said in an email this past week. “Once the suspension is over, we try and make the player’s return to the game as smooth and successful as possible. Alex’s attitude, actions and performance helped make his return a positive one.’’
Making up with Yankees
Rodriguez’s cold-war relationship with the Yankees’ front office also thawed to the point that last season he was given an on-field ceremony commemorating his 3,000th hit. A potential squabble over a $6-million milestone home run payment due Rodriguez was averted last year when both sides agreed it would go to charity. (He is 18 homers short of tying Babe Ruth’s total of 714.)
Tacopina said: “Who would have thought last year after this horrific battle, who would have thought that Alex would not only come back and have the year he had statistically, get a standing ovation by the fans, being on Fox MLB coverage of the World Series and being widely received and respected? That’s an incredible turn of events.’’
Is there yet another chapter to Rodriguez’s playing career? No one seemed to rule that out as he entered his final week in pinstripes.