I despised Alex Rodriguez toward the end of his playing career. He was a Yankee. He was busted for using performance-enhancing drugs. I was young, still considered the New York Yankees the “Evil Empire,” and couldn’t understand why anyone would cheat the game of baseball by taking banned substances. I don’t want to get into the whole PED discussion. That’s not why I’m here. I will say that I was one of the many people calling for then-commissioner Bud Selig to hand down the dreaded lifetime ban in 2013. “A-Roid” was easy to hate.
Fast forward four and a half years and boy, am I glad Selig didn’t listen to me. Had he banned A-Rod, we almost certainly wouldn’t have been blessed by the top-notch analysis Rodriguez has delivered from his seat at FOX’s postseason desk.
If you watched any the postseason coverage on FOX last year, you know how vital Rodriguez is to their pre- and post-game shows. Frank Thomas constantly has that look like he’s just happy to be there. Keith Hernandez was added to provide that old school flavor Pete Rose had given us before being canned. David Ortiz was brought in because why not, he’s Big Papi and can do no wrong, right?
Then there’s A-Rod; refreshingly professional, far more personable than he ever was as a player, and downright dedicated to breaking down those tiny details of the game that pass most of us by without our having noticed.
There’s a video of Rodriguez, Thomas, and Rose talking about hitting approaches during the 2016 postseason. First of all, how awesome is this? Three legendary hitters discussing their craft with each other, sharing tips and tricks that should be shown to every high schooler with dreams of being a pro. Secondly, did you notice how interested Rodriguez was to hear what Rose had to say? He’s still trying to learn, still picking up those tidbits that may not be useful now, but will be somewhere down the line. I’m a baseball nerd. Seeing a guy like A-Rod go full seamhead and geek out like that is cool to me.
Alex Rodriguez has come a very long way in quite a short period of time. His first foray into broadcasting came during the fall of 2015 when FOX made him a special guest analyst for the postseason once the Yankees had been eliminated. At first, Rodriguez was a bit awkward in front of the camera. Still, surprisingly, I found myself unable to laugh at him. I didn’t originally plan on giving him a chance, but he quickly turned me into a believer, dare I say, a fan.
It’s easy to forget that Rodriguez played in 65 games for the 2016 Yankees. Admittedly, I was happy when the Yanks cut him on August 12, 2016, with just a .200 batting average to show for his final season. Then he returned to FOX for the 2016 postseason and again, without planning to do so, I couldn’t help but root for him. His insights were valuable. His points were presented clearly and concisely. He even flashed some mild humor at times. He became a T.V. personality, instead of a baseball-playing robot. He was a human. And suddenly, all the things I hated him for as a player didn’t mean much anymore.
He hasn’t even been retired for a year and a half. In that short time, he’s transformed himself from despised player with a history of cheating allegations to broadcaster taking full advantage of a chance to reshape the public’s perception of him.
The sad part is that Alex Rodriguez has probably always been this way. Unfortunately, I had no idea. We don’t often get to see the “real” side of our favorite (and least favorite) professional athletes. We choose to judge them almost exclusively by the jersey they wear instead.
The best career move Alex Rodriguez ever made might well have been deciding to hang up that jersey in favor of a tailored suit. The transition has given him new life. It’s almost as if he became an entirely different person with his final step off the diamond.
The good news is that A-Rod will now be on ESPN every Sunday, helping connect fans with the game they love. That will give us all a much-needed chance to reevaluate our collective relationship with one of the most undeservedly hated players of his generation.
Alex Rodriguez is a damn good broadcaster, and it’s time to stop hating him just because we hated him as a player.