On this day six years ago, Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees held a press conference to officially announce his retirement from Major League Baseball. His final game would be August 12th and, despite rumors swirling that it was actually just his time with the Yankees that was coming to a close, he ensured fans that he had no intention of playing for another team.
And it made sense, of course. He was in the midst of, by far, the worst season of his career: he ended up slashing .200/.247/.351 with a measly 5.8 percent walk rate, 27.6 percent strikeout rate, and 56 wRC+ in 65 games. For the first time since he was a 19-year-old, he had a negative fWAR.
For an A-Rod super fan like myself, his 2016 season was really hard to watch. Although he was ultimately dragged down by numerous health issues late in his career, he had still been a highly productive hitter when he was on the field, considering his age, so it was hard to imagine a worse season for such a great player.
A-Rod was always my favorite player not named Mariano Rivera. I’ve talked many times about my affinity for Derek Jeter and Aaron Judge on this site, and I was always a big fan of CC Sabathia and Curtis Granderson, but they all paled in comparison to how much I loved A-Rod. The only issue? Well, he wasn’t a Yankee, of course.
And then, all of a sudden, he was. The day A-Rod was traded to the Yankees is still, to this day, one of the best days of my baseball-watching life. As awesome as Alfonso Soriano was, it’s not every day that a club can essentially trade one guy (Joaquín Arias was also thrown in as a PTBNL, but he didn’t really catch on until 2012 with the Giants) for a 28-year-old superstar who was on track to have one of the best careers ever. Needless to say, 12-year-old me was ecstatic.
A-Rod was unbelievable as a Yankee. In 12 seasons, including his ages 36-40 seasons when his production noticeably started to dip, he slashed .283/.378/.523 with 351 home runs, a 138 wRC+, and 51.7 fWAR. If we consider just his peak with the team, which was basically his ages 28-35 season, it ranks among some of the best ever: .295/.391/.550 with 284 home runs, 128 stolen bases, a 147 wRC+ and 47 fWAR in just eight seasons.
For his career, A-Rod ended up slashing .295/.380/.550 with a 141 wRC+ and 113.7 fWAR. He posted a negative fWAR in just three seasons: when he was 18, 19, and 40. He combined to play just 130 games collectively in those seasons. The very definition of a five-tool player, there was nothing that A-Rod couldn’t do on either side of the ball. As someone born in the early ‘90s, it’s safe for me to say that A-Rod was, by far, the very best on-field talent I have ever seen.
Six years after his retirement, my rose-colored glasses have started to come off and I’m really not so sure that I remember his career as fondly as I once did.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Despite possessing all of the talent in the world, unfortunately, no conversation about A-Rod is complete without mentioning his steroid use. A-Rod handled the accusations less than gracefully, lying multiple times in the face of mounting evidence, before ultimately receiving what was, at the time, the longest PED-related suspension ever for his ties to the Biogenesis scandal.
There’s also the fact that, despite all of his regular season success, he had a really tough stretch of bad postseason performances. Of course, a lot of that talk went away in 2009 when he was a major factor in the Yankees’ 27th and most recent World Series victory, but given his stature and, above all else, his pay grade, a lot of Yankees fans still have a hard time forgiving him for his lack of postseason success while with the club. And, as is the case with A-Rod, the positive vibes that finally surrounded him after that title were short-lived, as just four short months later he was once again publicly tied to further PED use.
In the six years since calling it quits, he’s done a lot of work to try and rehabilitate his public image and I give him credit for that, but, looking back, it’s really hard to ignore his mistakes. As a super fan, it’s often quite easy to look past the mistakes and explain away the bad decisions because we often elevate them to statuses that no human could ever live up to. But as I sat around last night and thought about the anniversary of his retirement announcement and what that meant to me as one of his biggest supporters growing up, unfortunately the first memory that came to mind was his handwritten apology letter, in which he, as a 39-year-old man with a Hall of Fame career behind him, essentially promised to behave going forward. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
As I look back on his career six years after he called it quits, with the benefit of hindsight and all that jazz, I think I’ve realized that two things are true: (1) A-Rod remains, to this day, the single most supremely talented baseball player I have ever had the joy of watching; and (2) I don’t think I revere him in quite the same way as I once did. And I suppose that’s okay.