TAMPA, Fla. — For whatever dumb mistakes Alex Rodriguez made during his 22-year career, and he admits now there were plenty of them, ultimately No. 13 was smart enough to realize when his time was up.
Credit the Yankees with the assist, of course. It’s easier to choose the door when somebody wants to throw you out a window, and Hal Steinbrenner dressed up A-Rod’s exit last season like an honorable discharge, complete with his own farewell night in the Bronx.
Everybody was more than ready to move on, and for the Yankees, Rodriguez was well past his expiration date. We would have liked to see him latch on with one more team, just because the media suffers from an incurable A-Rod addiction, so Tuesday’s revelation that he indeed was retired from playing probably hit us harder than it did him.
“Yes, I am,” was Rodriguez’s simple response to the question.
And with those words, A-Rod was now Coach Alex, the transformation permanent. As much as we didn’t believe he was through last August, that a winter off would change his mind, Rodriguez spoke Tuesday with the clarity of a man who sounded content with the new direction of his life. Even stepping back onto Steinbrenner Field, in his pinstriped pants again, failed to stir any hunger pangs for a potential comeback.
“Zero,” A-Rod said.
Without that, what’s left? Other than the five-year countdown toward his Cooperstown eligibility, this wiser, more mature Rodriguez lacks the tabloid sizzle we’ve lived on for more than a decade. A-Rod as mentor to the next generation of Yankees is a great ironic plot-twist as the franchise rebuilds itself for a future run at title No. 28. But out there patrolling the infield, arms folded, shades down, watching Ruben Tejada vacuum up fungoes, Rodriguez is just too normal now.
As the minutes ticked down to the start of the Yankees’ workout, we all expected a grand entrance from A-Rod, a slight hop up the dugout steps for a chance to bask in the applause from the few hundred fans inside Steinbrenner Field. Instead, A-Rod appeared down the rightfield line, and many didn’t even notice him until some scattered cheers broke out. The response, for the most part, was fairly reserved.
And that was surprising. The Yankees are a team essentially devoid of stars, and in the minor constellation of players on the field Tuesday, A-Rod would have to be considered the sun. In this case, however, he seems to have lost his gravitational pull. The Yankees grew tired of Rodriguez cancelling out their efforts to move forward after last year’s deadline sell-off and knew the only way was to remove him from the equation, regardless of the cost.
What transpired Tuesday was the residue from all that, but having him show up in Tampa as a guest instructor could very well be beneficial. Rodriguez, despite his PED dabblings, has always been considered an intelligent player and that wealth of on-field knowledge should be an asset to the youngsters. As for the other stuff that got him suspended, there’s probably a few lessons there as well.
“The one thing he’s always done is get up and fight his way back,” Joe Girardi said. “You can learn from that, too.”
It didn’t hurt that the Yankees got a nice attention bump Tuesday from A-Rod return, but limiting this stay to 72 hours isn’t the worst thing, either. He’s scheduled to be gone by Friday’s Grapefruit League opener, when the stage should go back to the actual Yankee players, a group that’s trying to forge its own identity.
Whenever A-Rod’s around, that’s a difficult task. Girardi spent 90 percent of his post-workout news conference fielding question about Rodriguez, and that’s not something any manager wants to do, at any time of the year. A-Rod tends to suck up all the oxygen. It’s just who he is. But he did give a nod to the Yankees’ future, and sounded genuinely interested in helping to build the foundation for it.
“This is a tremendous opportunity this franchise has in front of us,” Rodriguez said.
It’s going to take a few days to get used to Coach Alex. We’ll miss A-Rod, but the Yankees are fine right where he is.