The Yankees did their best to dress up the proceedings Friday night as a tribute to Alex Rodriguez, trotting out testimonials from their vast supply of legends, as well as an on-field appearance by Mariano Rivera.
Yet the fact that the pre-game ceremony was cut short by thunder, lightning and pouring rain seemed symbolic, and not only because of A-Rod’s stormy history with the ballclub.
Simply put, any attempt to create a feel-good vibe couldn’t camouflage the harsh truth that a one-time superstar player was being cut from the team.
So while A-Rod himself is putting the best face on all of this, repeatedly saying he is “at peace” with being pushed out the door, the truth is that it’s killing him.
At least that’s the picture painted by a person who has known A-Rod since he arrived in the majors 22 years ago.
“He’s crushed,” the person said Friday. “He loves baseball, he loves being a Yankee, and he loves living the life of a major leaguer. All of that is going away before he was ready for it. It’s going to be hard for him to wake up (on Saturday) knowing he can’t come to the Stadium.”
A-Rod himself indicated that he’d need a way to deal with the pain, albeit in a lighthearted manner, when he was asked on Friday if he would continue to watch the Yankees on TV in the days ahead.
“If I wake up on time tomorrow I would watch the (1 p.m.) game,” he said. “But I may have a couple of cocktails tonight, so I may not wake up by game time.”
With that A-Rod got the laugh in the interview room he wanted, but chances are he wasn’t kidding. He has made it clear that he believes he can still play, and on Friday he admitted his relationship with Joe Girardi has turned ugly over the manager’s refusal to play him in recent weeks.
“It’s been very difficult,” A-Rod said. “It’s been awkward and difficult.”
That doesn’t mean the Yankees are necessarily wrong, however, in their evaluation that A-Rod, at age 41, is done as a major league hitter. On Friday Girardi didn’t flinch when asked why he thinks A-Rod can no longer play at this level.
“We just haven’t seen the explosiveness and the production that we saw the first four months last year,” he said. “And this isn’t just this year. It happened in August and September of last year, and what we’ve seen has led us to make our decision.”
A-Rod has a different opinion, as he said, and he badly wanted to prove the Yankees wrong in his final game in pinstripes Friday night. The emotion poured out of him when he drove in a run with a double to right-center in the first inning off Chris Archer, as he screamed “f–k, yeah,” upon reaching second base, and pumped his arms.
At the time it had the feel of a memorable finale, as the sellout crowd was up and roaring for A-Rod at every opportunity, creating some post-thunderstorm electricity of its own.
Alas, that proved to be the only real highlight for A-Rod, as he hit into a couple of routine ground-outs to short and struck out in his other three at-bats.
Girardi did throw in a surprise ending, however, sending him out to play third base in the ninth inning, then took him out after one out so A-Rod could get one last ovation from the crowd.
At least at the end, then, the manager did right by him.
So now the question is whether A-Rod is done or he’ll jump at an opportunity to sign with another team, if one comes along.
I’ve been saying he might not want to risk his connection with the Yankees by playing elsewhere, but hearing how hard A-Rod is taking this forced retirement makes me wonder if indeed he will play again elsewhere to prove a point.
Almost certainly he would want Hal Steinbrenner’s approval because he doesn’t want to do anything to offend the Yankee owner. On Friday he sounded like Hal’s new best friend, in fact, when asked if he’d pick up the phone should another team reach out to him.
“Unless it’s Hal I probably won’t be answering the phone for anybody,” he said. “I need some rest — kind of recover and reflect. It’s been a great run and incredible journey.
“Also, Hal has given me an opportunity to stay involved. With all my screw-ups and how badly I’ve acted, the fact that Hal wants me as part of the family, that’s (like) hitting 800 home runs for me.”
Call it hyperbole but I do believe A-Rod truly is very grateful that Steinbrenner wants him around in the future in his new role as an advisor and instructor. However, I also believe he’s hurting from his Yankee dismissal more than he’ll ever say.
So which wins out, short-term pride or long-term practicality?
This might be the best way to look at it: A-Rod may be a more humble, more likeable version of his former self these days, but he’s still A-Rod.