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New York Yankees

Column: The redemption of Alex Rodriguez

16 JUN 2016: New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) in the dugout during the American League match up between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by: David Berding/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by: David Berding/Icon Sportswire)

Ford C. Frick Award winner Ernie Harwell once said, “Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

For Alex Rodriguez, there have been many ups and many downs during his baseball career, all of his own doing for better or for worse. And now that his playing career is over, Rodriguez has experienced a renaissance that seemed unimaginable a mere two years ago.

Back then, Rodriguez was about to rejoin the Yankees after his year-long suspension for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract.

And just as spring training was getting underway, ESPN the Magazine published a 12,000-word piece called, “The Education of Alex Rodriguez” by J.R. Moehringer. The piece gave readers a glimpse into Rodriguez’s life during his suspension. There were no direct quotes from Rodriguez, but Moehringer spent over 100 hours with the disgraced slugger and the piece made him seem human. It cracked the veneer that he seemed to have built up his entire career. Rodriguez was always viewed as awkward, or not sincere. It was his downfall. Nothing he did or said was ever right. Everything was manufactured and fake. His former teammate Derek Jeter also gave canned responses after games and wasn’t criticized for it as much as Rodriguez.

Plus, his dalliance with steroids was viewed as a crime against the sanctity of baseball. Never mind that a whole bunch of other players also committed the same crime against baseball. Rodriguez was different. He was paid too much. He was the guy who had all the talent in the world and still turned to steroids. He was a pariah.

In television, you have what’s known as a redemption arc. A bad character turns good. After the ESPN piece was published, some people changed their minds about Rodriguez, or they at least viewed him differently. He was finally seen as a real person with feelings and with fears about the future. His redemption arc was just beginning.

Still, his status was up in the air. No one, including Rodriguez himself, knew what a year off from baseball would do for the three-time American League MVP and making a comeback at the age of 39 seemed like a very tall order. There were stories in the New York tabloids about the Yankees possibly releasing Rodriguez before the end of spring training, or releasing him if his first month didn’t go well. If things went well for him, it wouldn’t be as fun to cover him. The worst-case scenario: being released and humiliated would be the better storyline for the New York Yankees’ beat, because who wants to see someone like him redeem himself, right? It seemed as if some of the New York Yankees’ beat wanted him to fail just for pageviews and circulation numbers.

Instead, Rodriguez went about his business, avoided saying anything controversial all year, and had a solid comeback season which included passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list in May, getting his 3000th hit on a home run off of Justin Verlander in June and hitting three home runs in a game against Minnesota in July. He finished his comeback season with 33 home runs and 86 RBI, and people were left to wonder if maybe he had enough in the tank to pass Babe Ruth on the home run list in 2016.

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez acknowledges the crowd during a ceremony prior to his final baseball game with the team, against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

A couple of weeks after the Yankees lost the 2015 American League Wild Card Game to the Houston Astros, Fox Sports announced that they were adding Rodriguez to their playoff broadcasts. The news was met with some trepidation by fans. A lot of them wondered if Rodriguez would be awkward and uncomfortable on TV and the expectations for his television work was low. The New York beat writers were quick to mention how he loved to talk about the game of baseball and how he was considered a baseball savant. If you asked him about a game in 2007 when he happened to hit a home run, Rodriguez could tell you the pitcher’s name, what the count was, and what kind of pitch he threw.

Rodriguez’s Fox debut occurred during their NFL coverage, and in what seemed like typical A-Rod fashion, he ended up breaking a TV screen after an errant throw of a football to Jay Glazer. But things could only go up from there, and they did.

Rodriguez made his baseball broadcasting debut during coverage of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, joining Kevin Burkhardt, Pete Rose, and Frank Thomas at the studio desk and the reviews were mostly positive.

Rodriguez was affable, and when he talked about stats or in-game performances, he didn’t talk over fans’ heads. He seemed a bit stiff at first, but that’s to be expected when you don’t have a lot of on-camera experience and are thrown into the fire, so to speak. Rodriguez was learning on the air and he did a really nice job of improving as the postseason went on. He was more than able to handle the ostentatious Pete Rose’s ad libbing and distractions, and he even handled Kevin Millar awkwardly complimenting his full, luscious lips on live TV.

Rodriguez dazzled baseball fans during Fox’s 2015 postseason coverage and in turn, gained another faction of new fans. Even Red Sox fans who despised him for over a decade were saying how good he was at baseball analysis on TV; some were even going so far as saying that they liked Rodriguez. Of course, they’d preface it with, “I can’t believe I am saying this but…” It was quite the accomplishment for Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez showed up for spring training in 2016, he had more people rooting for him because of his performance during the 2015 season and because of his TV work. He gained fans from all over baseball who now wanted to see his redemption arc continue. Unfortunately, Rodriguez’s 2016 season wasn’t anything like 2015. His body gave up on him and the day-to-day grind was getting to be too much. He couldn’t hit for power and the Yankees, after becoming sellers at the trade deadline, released him in mid-August. He finished his Major League career with 696 home runs.

His second career as a broadcaster continued and Rodriguez was teamed up with Burkhardt, Thomas and Rose for the 2016 playoffs. Once again, he got rave reviews again and the second time around was even better for him. Rodriguez was prepared for every broadcast. His pile of cards seemed higher than everyone else’s at the desk, and when he’d ask players questions during postgame coverage, they’d usually say something like, “Oh, that’s a good question,” and then answer it. Rodriguez was much more relaxed and comfortable with his colleagues; some baseball fans were actually clamoring for him to be in the booth during postseason games. It didn’t happen then, but it will during selected games in 2017 thanks to his new contract with Fox Sports. He will be a game analyst and feature reporter for both Fox and FS1. He will also continue his studio work.

Fox Sports’ president of production and executive John Entz said in a statement on Tuesday, “Bringing Alex back was a priority of ours and we are fortunate to have him as a key contributor to our baseball coverage,” He added, “his potential is off the charts and he’s been an incredibly quick learner in the world of television.”

Alex Rodriguez’s turnaround has been astonishing to watch in real time. Two years ago, he was a pariah. Fans in New York, and around baseball wanted him to disappear and never come back. Now, he is turning into one of the more respected broadcasters in baseball with new fans popping up all over the country. His redemption arc has been completed.

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