His comeback stretches the imagination to the outreaches of absurdity.
Just five years ago at the All-Star break, Alex Rodriguez was sitting home in Coral Gables, Fla., halfway through his drug suspension, with nowhere to go, suing Major League Baseball, the players union, and anyone and everyone he felt was responsible for his 162-game ban.
These days, having played his final game in 2016, retiring with 696 home runs, he has become omnipresent.
Turn on the Sunday night ESPN game, and you'll see the 43-year-old. Turn on FOX at next week’s All-Star Game, and Rodriguez will be front and center. Turn on Shark Tank , and he’s panelist. Turn on the Tonight Show, and he’s cracking jokes with Jimmy Fallon. The Oscars, the Emmys, the Met Gala – he’s there too.
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In a span of four days in London last week, Rodriguez was exploring the city with FOX cameras following him, doing the Yankees-Red Sox game on Saturday, interviewing commissioner Rob Manfred on the ESPN set Sunday, and sitting with tennis great John McEnroe in the broadcast booth Monday watching Novak Djokovic win his first-round match at Wimbledon.
“Wow, can you believe it?” Rodriguez told USA TODAY Sports. “I could never have dreamt this five years ago. I’m so grateful for where I am today.
“I mean, I’m interviewing Rob Manfred one day, and then sitting at Wimbledon the next, checking that off my bucket list.
“It’s crazy how this has worked out.’’
Chris Fowler is a betting man. Loved being in the @wimbledon booth with @cbfowler and the legendary John McEnroe! #Wimbledon#McEnroepic.twitter.com/lrZe27RXpP
If you really want whacky, Rodriguez has now become a consultant and mentor for players, managers, general managers and owners throughout the league.
Rodriguez recently had lunch with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, hung out with billionaire investor Warren Buffett in Omaha, Neb., talked defense with Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, offense with New York Mets second baseman Robinson Cano, strategy with St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, and investments with Boston Red Sox starter David Price.
“I think he realized he made a mistake, and he wasn’t going to let that define his life,’’ Reinsdorf said. “People are entitled to have a chance to redeem themselves, and rather than feeling sorry for himself, he recognizes it was his fault and is not going to blame anyone for it.
“The thing about Alex is that he is smart. Really smart. He has a great grasp of the financial world, and good instincts in real estate. His best thing is he knows what he doesn’t know, and asks for people’s advice, and ask for help.
“People who think they know what they don’t know, those people are dangerous.’’
Rodriguez during the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park. (Photo: Bob DeChiara, USA TODAY Sports)
There are dozens of players Rodriguez has come in contact with, primarily through his ESPN gig, that routinely seek his advice these days.
“This year he Facetimed me, and was telling me I had too much head movement at the plate,’’ Colorado Rockies All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “He said if you can quiet your head, you’re going to have plenty of power. I looked at the video, and he was exactly right. He’s been a big help.’’
Said Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa: “He has really given me great advice, on and off the field. You’re talking about one of the greatest hitters to ever play, so of course you’re going to listen. I asked him about certain pitches, what to do with them, staying inside the baseball, not over striding, standing tall.
“Every single thing he’s told me, I take with me every day.’’
Said Story: “He has helped me with my routine and recovery more than anything, things that I’ve now implemented in my daily life. He told me the biggest thing you can control is your sleep. Pay attention to what time you’re going to bed, try to wake up at the same time every day just to get your body in rhythm. He said you’re going to feel so much more consistent at game time, and it’s worked.’’
And who could have possibly imagined that Rodriguez would play a vital role in the Red Sox’s World Series championship last year?
Price had just lost his first two postseason games, surrendering 14 baserunners and seven earned runs in 6 ⅓ innings, and was being absolutely lambasted in Boston.
Rodriguez had barely spoken to Price, and they certainly had no relationship, but he reached out and sent a text message.
It may have been the words that turned around Price and the Red Sox’s fate.
“It was pretty cool for him to hit me up at the time he did,’’ Price said. “He just had words of encouragement. I definitely didn’t expect to get a message from him.’’
It was actually Jennifer Lopez, Rodriguez’s fiancée, that gave Rodriguez the idea to reach out to Price. If anyone knows the feeling of being beaten up and vilified for postseason struggles, it’s A-Rod.
“I’ve been there plenty,’’ Rodriguez said. “I know how great he is, and if he had the positive attitude, I believed that it could turn quickly for him.’’
Well, the next thing anyone knew, Price won the pennant-clinching game over the Houston Astros, and was a World Series hero, going 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA with the Red Sox winning the title in five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They never shared their conversation publicly since Rodriguez is still a special advisor for the Yankees. The Yankees and Red Sox are not fond of helping out their bitter rivals. Still, Price will always remember Rodriguez’s words, coming at a time when he needed it most.
“I was pretty taken aback,’’ Price said.
It’s no different this year with the Cardinals struggling to find consistency, staying alive in the playoff race, but unable to generate any momentum.
Guess who Shildt has reached out to during these struggling times?
“Alex has been a great resource for me,’’ Shildt said in his office at Busch Stadium. “As you get to know him, it has been really great to see how sincere he is about his love for the game of baseball. A genuine passion. He’s a really nice resource to use and draw from.
“I’m always interested in how he was able to sustain his success, and how to deal with things when they don’t go well. He’s always encouraging about taking the long view of things.
“Look, anybody who has the appreciation and loves this game like he does, I’m going to spend time with and talk to. There are only so many people that can relate to certain experiences, so if you can, you take advantage of it.’’
One day, if the opportunity is right, he could be sitting next to Reinsdorf and across from Manfred at the MLB owners’ meetings.
Can you imagine?
“I’ll never say never,’’ Rodriguez said, “I always dreamed of that one day. But now is not the right time. I enjoy helping players in all sports.
“When I came up, players were more fearful, but now with social media and the connected world, people are more bold and engaging and asking for help."
They can ask him about everything from their hitting approach, to defensive tendencies to their investment portfolios.
“His knowledge of the game, man, I haven’t met anyone like him,’’ said Cano, a teammate of Rodriguez with the Yankees from 2005-2013. “He’s always been ahead of everybody. You can ask him anything, and he knows it. I think he could do whatever he wanted to in this game.’’
For now, A-Rod is content where he's at.
“Really, I’m a confessed baseball nerd,’’ Rodriguez said. “That’s all I’ve ever been. I’ve been humbled, and I have learned, and now I’m here to help.
“I’m being me, and I’ve never been happier.’’
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