Alex Rodriguez’s baseball career, at least as a player, is coming to a close.
Rodriguez, the biggest baseball star to come out of South Florida, announced on Sunday morning that he plans to play his final game for the Yankees on Friday night against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.
“This is a tough day,” Rodriguez said, his voice wavering. “I love this game, I love this team and today I’m saying goodbye to both. This is also a proud day. I was 18 when I broke into the big leagues. I never thought I could play for 22 years. At 18, I just wanted to make the team.”
After Friday’s game at Yankee Stadium, New York says it will release A-Rod. The plan is for him to join New York’s front office as a special adviser to owner Hal Steinbrenner, work with young players within the system and be a guest instructor at spring training.
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The final year of Rodriguez’s mammoth 10-year, $275 million contract ends after the 2017 season. Because the Yankees are releasing Rodriguez, they are on the hook for the reported $27 million remaining. Rodriguez confirmed Sunday that Steinbrenner started up retirement talks last week.
Rodriguez, 41, said he would leave the Yankees after Friday’s game and return to Miami, his new gig not starting until next February in Tampa.
Once Rodriguez is released, however, he is free to sign with another team if that opportunity were to come up.
General manager Brian Cashman said no team had approached him about a possible trade for Rodriguez. Cashman also said Rodriguez would be able to pursue TV opportunities. Last year, Rodriguez worked for Fox during the playoffs.
Although Rodriguez said he had not looked beyond “the pinstripes,” he didn’t rule out playing for another team.
“Of course, I think I can play baseball,” Rodriguez said. “You always think you have one more hit in you.”
Rodriguez had plenty of hits in him.
The top pick in the 1993 draft by Seattle out of Miami’s Westminster Christian, Rodriguez initially cracked the Mariners’ lineup as an 18-year-old.
How good was A-Rod?
Not only was he a three-time winner of the American League Most Valuable Player award — twice with New York — but he was a key part of the Yankees’ 2009 World Series championship run, hitting six homers and driving in 18 runs during the postseason.
Cashman, for emphasis, took off his 2009 ring and placed it in front of him when asked what Rodriguez’s legacy in New York would be.
“That doesn’t come along to this franchise’s trophy case,” Cashman said, “without Alex’s substantial contributions.”
Rodriguez not only won five home run titles, but he won a batting title in 1996 as he hit .358 in his first full-time season. Rodriguez also won the Silver Slugger award for top hitter at his position 10 times during his 22-year career.
Only three players in the history of Major League Baseball — Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds — have more home runs than the 696 hit by Rodriguez.
“This has been a special player,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, “for a long time.”
“Obviously, a great player for a long time,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who coached under Joe Torre with the Yankees from 2004-07.
“To me, he was a guy who was always easy to deal with. He was a hard worker. He wanted to play every day.
“I was there for [Rodriguez’s 500th home run]. I thought that was pretty cool, just watching it. But being around him and watching his process and the work he would do, I love watching that part of guys.”
Although he was considered the best player in the game for years, Rodriguez has been linked to steroids through his dealings with Coral Gables-based Biogenesis and was suspended for the entire 2014 season by Major League Baseball.
The 211-game suspension Major League Baseball handed down was the largest for performance-enhancing drug use in baseball history, with Rodriguez ending up serving 162 of them.
Because of the steroid issues, it doesn’t appear likely that Rodriguez will join South Florida’s other top baseball products — Hialeah native and North Miami High product Steve Carlton and Southwest Miami product Andre Dawson — in the Hall of Fame. Rodriguez came into Sunday fourth on the all-time home run list (696), second with 2,084 RBI, eighth in runs scored (2,021) and 19th on the hit list (3,114).
Rodriguez is also baseball’s all-time leader with 25 grand slams. Jose Canseco, from Miami’s Coral Park, ended his career with 462 home runs. His well-documented and admitted steroid use also makes a call from Cooperstown unlikely.
“He had his ups and downs like many of us, only his life was on center stage,” said Rich Hofman, Rodriguez’s coach at Westminster Christian from 1991-93.
“Not many guys get the chance to coach one of the top 10 to ever play the game. I enjoyed the past 20 years, seeing those accomplishments. I’m sad about some of the other things, but life is like that. I wish him the best, sure he’ll do well in whatever he does.”
Financially, Rodriguez has done well for himself.
After becoming a star in Seattle, Rodriguez left the Mariners after seven seasons and signed a 10-year deal with Texas worth $252 million — the largest such pact in baseball history.
The Rangers eventually traded Rodriguez to the Yankees in a 2004 blockbuster deal. Rodriguez later opted out of that contract and signed a new $275 million deal with New York following the 2007 season.
Although he never played for the Marlins — there is still time for that, however — Rodriguez also never seemed to leave Miami behind.
The kid who grew up trying to sneak into University of Miami baseball games as a youngster donated almost $4 million for the Hurricanes’ stadium which now bears his name.
The kid who grew up at the Boys & Girls Club of Coconut Grove has been a champion of their programs and has made numerous financial contributions to continue their work not only locally but nationally as well.
Rodriguez honed his skill on the diamonds of South Florida, becoming nationally recognized while at Westminster Christian. The Warriors won a national championship in 1992 with Rodriguez at shortstop, as he left pro scouts drooling.
Rodriguez signed to play for the Hurricanes but everyone knew that wasn’t happening.
A 14-time All-Star, Rodriguez saw his playing time dip lately — along with his once lofty statistics.
Rodriguez is batting just .204 this season with nine home runs and 29 RBI. As the Yankees trend younger (Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller were traded and Mark Teixeira announced his retirement on Friday), Girardi has nailed Rodriguez to the bench. Rodriguez has made only one start and had seven trips to the plate since July 22.
“The last four weeks have been awkward, painful and embarrassing,” Rodriguez said. “I’m going to get some at-bats on Friday. So I’m excited about Friday.”
Rodriguez entered Sunday’s game (albeit on the bench) against the Indians just four home runs shy of joining the exclusive 700 club. Rodriguez is also 19 away from passing the great Ruth. By ending things now, however, those historic numbers will likely remain out of reach.
“I would have had an unbelievable time going after them,” Rodriguez said. “That wasn’t in the cards. That was the Yankees’ decision, and I’m at peace with it.”