The tear-stained news conference in which Yankees star Alex Rodriguez announced his retirement Sunday clearly had to be carefully orchestrated.
A-Rod hadn't played at all in the field this year and had started just once since July 22. With the Yankees making three significant trades before the non-waiver deadline, and Mark Teixeira announcing his retirement effective at the end of the 2016 season, it was clear GM Brian Cashman was trying to retool his team, if not rebuild.
But that's not the way the Steinbrenner ownership group has operated at any time over the last 40 years. So you can imagine a scenario in which Cashman went to Hal Steinbrenner and told him he wanted to release Rodriguez, which would put the Yankees on the hook for about $27 million ($21 million for next year, and about $6 million remaining on this year's contract), for A-Rod sitting home and doing nothing.
Steinbrenner had other ideas, to at least get something for all that money, and you can read between the lines here to see how this "retirement" was arranged:
Wednesday morning, not long after a struggling Alex Rodriguez had made the final out in a loss to the Mets, Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, sent him a text message: It was time, he said, for them to speak face to face.
Later that day, they did, in a room off the clubhouse in Yankee Stadium. And it was there that Steinbrenner told Rodriguez, 41, that there would be no more at-bats for him as a Yankee, not this season or the next one, either, when he would be in the last year of his enormous $275 million contract.
It was no secret, Steinbrenner told Rodriguez, that the Yankees had made a significant change of course and were now looking to the future. A fading slugger hitting .204 this season simply did not fit in.
Later that day, Steinbrenner and Rodriguez met again. On Thursday morning, there was a third session. And by then, Steinbrenner also had a proposal for Rodriguez to consider: Instead of sitting on the bench for the rest of the season, doing nothing, Rodriguez would be given his release by the Yankees and then appointed a special adviser and instructor for the club.
All of this allowed Rodriguez to save face, to go out of his playing career actually playing -- you can assume he'll be installed as DH Friday at Yankee Stadium against the Rays -- and with a bit of dignity, though it's an open question as to whether that's deserved.
Let me be clear. There's no doubt that Rodriguez was a tremendous talent, one of the best to ever play the game. Through his time in Seattle and Texas he was putting together a career that could possibly have been viewed as the best ever, had he continued that progression. He was well-loved in Seattle, even after the Mariners let him walk in free agency so they could sign, among others, Ichiro Suzuki. The Mariners won 116 games the year after A-Rod departed, though they fell short of the World Series.
None of the Rangers teams he played on won more than 73 games. They scored tons of runs thanks to A-Rod's presence in the lineup (and he won the first of his three MVP awards there), but had no pitching. So they traded him to the Yankees for future Cub Alfonso Soriano, and he continued to hit, but the team never got past the division series round in three of his first four years there.
And then things began to fall apart. The 10-year deal he signed during the 2007 World Series got Bud Selig to ask teams not to make those kinds of announcements during premier events. And people wondered: How can even this great player be worth that kind of money at age 41 or 42, in 2016 and 2017? The answer to that question was pretty obvious, even then, and it resulted in this curious little retirement dance. It's a cautionary tale to the teams that have signed players like Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano to similar deals, and how those players might look when they reach age 40 or beyond.
And then there's the PED use. Historians of the future will have to decide what that all means, not just for A-Rod but for others. His admission in 2009 that he had done PEDs while with the Rangers, and the Biogenesis scandal, which found A-Rod storming out of his own grievance hearing and filing multiple lawsuits to try to overturn his full-season suspension, including suing the MLB Players Association, made many fans wonder what was going through his head.
Eventually he accepted the 2014 suspension, and then, on his return to the Yankees in 2015, not only did he become, by all accounts, a good player and teammate, but he had a very good offensive season, hitting .250/.356/.486 with 33 home runs and 3.1 bWAR.
2016 was not as kind, and this isn't surprising; age catches up to every professional athlete, and age 41 was apparently A-Rod's time. Some national writers speculated that after he's given his unconditional release following Friday's game (upon which A-Rod says he's "going home" to Miami), he might catch on with another team. This is silly talk. He can't play the field anymore -- hasn't done so in more than a year -- so his value would be only to an American League team. There's likely no room for him on any contender; only the Rays, out of the race, might consider signing him, in the hope he might get to 700 home runs and put some folks in the seats at the Trop, but given that he'd hit just three home runs in 136 at-bats since May 28, that would appear unlikely. He's certainly done as a player.
Interestingly, the "special advisor" status given him by Hal Steinbrenner specifically ends December 31, 2017, and seems designed for nothing more than to get some value out of the money the Yankees have to pay him next year. Whether that continues beyond 2017 seems questionable to me.
His legacy, therefore, is complicated. Great talent? Without question, one of the greatest the game has ever seen. The numbers are what they are, Hall of Fame quality. After several playoff failures, the Yankees almost certainly would not have won the 2009 World Series -- their latest title to date -- without his October performance. But there are the scandals, and the lawsuits, and the denials -- and then there's a career coda, 2015 and 2016, in which he became a model citizen. Will he be elected to the Hall five years from now?
I put that question to you. Vote in the poll (note, I'm not asking whether you'd vote for him, but whether you think he'll get into the Hall), and weigh in on a remarkable baseball career in the comments.