Amid the myriad words that will be showered upon Alex Rodriguez when he plays — supposedly— the final game of his 22-year career tonight, against the Rays, the most applicable is complicated.
As easy as A-Rod could make the game look, everything about him, and all that swirled around him, came with a degree of difficulty.
As a player, his once-in-a-lifetime talents were a gift, allowing him to post some of the most remarkable numbers in history, combining power, speed and grace afield with a sincere interest in and appreciation of the game.
As a person, he tried to be larger than life, a gift that kept on giving to the media that covered him through his triumphs and travails — including the admitted use of PEDs that forever soiled his reputation — as he would incessantly draw the spotlight to himself with attention-grabbing antics, high-profile relationships and narcissistic maneuvers.
Even tonight's hastily arranged farewell — which is really just a dressed-up version of his unceremonial release — comes with an asterisk given the possibility he will opt to play again for another team rather than move into his special adviser's job with the Yankees.
With A-Rod, it's always complicated.
Alex Rodriguez regularly found himself — or found a way to put himself — in the headlines, and often it was a love story:
• Above all, A-Rod seemed to be in love with himself. That surfaced in its most narcissistic glory during a March 2009 photo shoot for Details magazine — which, we could learn later, was done just as, maybe even later the same day, that Sports Illustrated was breaking the news of his failed steroids test — when he kissed himself in a mirror.
There are other examples, such as when he took off his shirt and was sunbathing in Central Park the afternoon of a game and, what a coincidence, a photographer happened to be there and he made the cover of the tabloids. There was the anecdote in Selena Roberts' book A-Rod about him going to clubs and using this pickup line, "Who's hotter, me or Derek Jeter?" But for the supreme show of A-Rod vanity, we have to go to the gossip mags, where US Weekly anonymous quoted a former "fling" with this revelatory description of the wall above his bed: "He was so vain. He had not one, but two painted portraits of himself as a centaur. You know, the half-man, half-horse figure? It was ridiculous."
A-Rod was rather public with his high-profile love life, including some occasional PDA. There was the relationship with actor Kate Hudson. With Madonna, including going with her to Kabbalah services. With model and former WWE Diva Torrie Wilson. And with actor Cameron Diaz, giving us the infamous video loop from a Super Bowl XLV suite of her feeding him popcorn. But A-Rod, who is divorced from the mother of his two daughters, occasionally went too far. In 2007, while still married, he was photographed going from a strip club back to his hotel room with a blonde who was identified as a, um, working girl, ending up on front of the New York Post with the catchy headline STRAY-ROD. And in 2012, after pinch-hit for in a playoff game, he found time to send a ball to a model sitting behind the dugout with a note to get her digits.
• A-Rod loved to be the center of attention on the field as well. And though he had the talent to be the best player at any given moment, he sometimes did some unbecoming things that also landed him in the spotlight.
Like in July 2004 when in his first season in pinstripes he interjected himself into the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry by taking extreme exception to getting hit by a Bronson Arroyo pitch, and ended up getting a mouthful of C Jason Varitek's glove, the scene captured in photos that are still popular in New England bars.
Like in the 2004 ALCS with Boston, when on what would have been an out at first base, he slapped the ball out of Arroyo's hand, and anguished over being called out for interference.
Like in May 2007, when he was running from second to third on a likely inning-ending pop-up and yelled something — A-Rod claimed it was "Ha" — at Blue Jays 3B Howie Clark, who thought he was called off and let the ball drop, leading Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to call the play "bush league."
Like during the 2007 World Series, with the rival Red Sox closing in on the championship, he announced during the eighth inning he would exercise the opt-out clause in his contract.
Like in April 2010, when he violated one of baseball's unwritten rules in running across the mound to return to first base after a foul ball, drawing a protest from A's pitcher Dallas Braden, who went all Clint Eastwood, screaming, "Get off my mound."
A-Rod could be a lot of things during his career, but he could never be Jeter, and he never got the respect or accolades that Jeter did. They were considered close friends through the late '90s, but A-Rod cooled that relationship with comments to Esquire magazine about how "Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him. He's never had to lead. You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie (Williams) and (Paul) O'Neill. You never say, 'Don't let Derek beat you.' He's never your concern."
A-Rod & the Rays
It is somewhat fitting that A-Rod will conclude his Yankees career against the Rays since he started it playing against them. It was March 30, 2004, in the Tokyo Dome of all places, that A-Rod stepped to the plate for the first time that mattered as a Yankee — and he took a called third strike from mighty Victor Zambrano. A-Rod would rebound to do okay against the Rays, hitting 56 homers — thus far — against then, most of any player, and rapping 233 hits, tied with David Ortiz for second most, behind his buddy Derek Jeter.
While Rays such as Seattle-born rookie left-handed pitcher Blake Snell and even 30-year-old veteran third baseman Evan Longoria grew up admiring A-Rod — "I loved watching him as a kid,'' Longoria said — and playing against him, Rays manager Kevin Cash had a unique perspective, playing with him on the Yankees in 2009 during spring training and two-plus weeks in May of that championship season. "Obviously there's a lot of players that are going to have mixed emotions," Cash said. "My thoughts on Alex are that he was a really good teammate to me. He was a really good teammate the brief time I was with them. … Twenty-two years of doing something at a very high level obviously merits some appreciation."
While some Rays may take time to appreciate the fanfare of A-Rod's farewell, starter Chris Archer is treating tonight's game as all business, even though first pitch is slated to be delayed 15 minutes for some pregame ceremonies. "It's 60 feet, 6 inches for me, like always," Archer said. A-Rod is 2-for-15 against Archer, though both his hits are home runs. If Archer ends up being the last pitcher A-Rod ever faces, he'll take his small slice of history. "Regardless of what happens, I guess it's going to be historic," Archer said. "If nobody else remembers, he'll remember. And he's faced a lot of guys."
Rodriguez is part of MLB and Rays history, as he hit the ball that led to the first official use of replay in a Sept. 3, 2008, game at the Trop. A-Rod's blast was ruled fair as it went over the leftfield foul pole and off the D-ring catwalk, but then-Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn't convinced and asked the umps to huddle. Crew chief Charlie Reliford decided that since he had the technology it was as good a time as any to make some history, so they took a look at the monitor mounted in the room behind the third-base dugout and were proved correct.
Alex Rodriguez's 22-year big-league career — from the time he came up as a 18-year-old rookie with the Mariners in 1994 after being the No. 1 overall pick the year before, through his after-the-fact admission of steroids use in 2001-03 (blamed on his cousin Yuri), to his 2014 yearlong suspension for involvement in the Biogenesis doping scandal (and the ensuing bitter legal fight he eventually conceded) and all the lies and blister and A-Roid references and asterisks, to tonight's farewell with the Yankees at age 41 — can best be defined by the numbers:
$275 million The eye-popping value of the 10-year contract he negotiated with the Yankees in December 2007 after opting out of his previous record-setting deal, and for which the Yankees will pay him the final $27 million to not play the rest of this season and next year after releasing him following tonight's game, giving him total career earnings of $452 million.
$252 million The value of the 10-year deal he signed in December 2000 with Texas, only to be traded three years later to the Yankees, after an original deal to Boston feel through due to issues the players union had with the financial restructuring, and moving to third base in a nod to shortstop Derek Jeter, with whom he never quite aligned.
Career hits, 19th all time.
Career RBIs, third all time behind Hank Aaron's 2,297 and Babe Ruth's 2,213.
Career regular season batting average and OPS.
Career postseason batting average and OPS.
Career home runs, trailing only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).
American League All-Star teams.
AL MVP awards, 2003, 2005, 2007.
World Series championship in his 22-year career, 2009 with the Yankees.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.