There was a time when Alex Rodriguez was touted as the guy who could relieve us of Barry Bonds as the home run king. He was young, healthy and an MVP contender every year.
If anyone deserved $30 million a year, it was him. That’s a stretch _ “deserve” $30 million a year. Maybe discovering a cure for cancer, world hunger or bringing about global peace, but not playing baseball. Who’s worth that number? Surely not a baseball player. Funny, Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise gets the same for a movie, no one raises an eyebrow.
No discussion about Alex Rodriguez can be complete without the subject of money. For an athlete who dedicates his life to his craft, the size of the paycheck is a major factor. No one has ever refused money or given money back. Athletes are entertainers, some ridiculously high-paid entertainers.
In a perfect world, entertainers would not be allowed to make more money than doctors, police officers or anybody whose work made a difference to society. Ours is not a perfect world, so things get out of balance. Something like a young super-athlete, who played baseball for an eccentric owner, in an era when expanded TV, media, Internet and general economic growth seemed evident, was part of a perfect storm.
Alex Rodriguez was cursed. At the time he had no idea, none of us did. That contract changed him and baseball and has been a burden to many. A burden under which he has to play, fans have to watch and baseball has to exist. Alex Rodriguez’s career will never be appreciated.
Is the burden of money at the root of all of his problems? Alex Rodriguez, for all intents and purposes, is a good guy. His problem, at times, seems to be the perception that he comes off as insincere, insecure and even a bit fake. What mega-athlete doesn’t have that side to their personality? I did. OK, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, just off the top of my head, but that’s about where it ends.
LeBron, Kobe and Tiger, there’s a quick three for comparison. But then the anti-A-Rod _ Derek Jeter _ still at a level where salary could be an issue, is beloved and respected by everyone. CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira also are on the Yankees and make over $20 million each, and they escape the daily wrath and scrutiny.
Is it money, personality or the combination that makes Alex so polarizing?
To make a point, two personal stories. After his first couple years as a teenage major league shortstop in Seattle, I met him before a golf event in Fort Lauderdale. I had retired several years earlier, he was just beginning his career, and I sensed a great respect as he addressed me as Mr. Schmidt. It made me feel old, but at the same time, he impressed me with his approach.
Fast forward to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in 2008 when he was one homer away from my 548 on the all-time home run chart. We were standing at third base, I was a little uncomfortable not knowing what to say, so I tried to make conversation by mentioning the home run list. He asked me if I was planning on being there to see him match me. It was sort of an aloof response to my question _ to ask if I was planning on following him till he tied me was a little presumptuous and a blow to my ego. It came off as the exact opposite of our first meeting. This was 500 home runs and $200 million later in life.
I may be reading too much into these moments, Alex wouldn’t even remember them. He was there to play the game, not carry on a conversation about home run records with me. Just the wrong choice of words in a stressful moment, that can happen.
Alex has a very high profile, tries so hard to be normal, and can’t pull it off. No one making $30 million a year could. If he were a rock star, who’d care? He plays America’s game in front of us for seven months. He can’t hide.
The reason he is so polarizing lies right in this story. In him, we all see a guy who hit the sports lottery and we think, if it were us, life would be a bowl of cherries and it would be easy to be everything to everyone. If the tables were turned in that exchange at the All-Star game, I’d have said to him that I’d be honored if he were present when I tied and passed him, and I would send my jet to bring him there. Is that crazy?
So many people say to me that I came along in baseball 20 years too early. They say imagine what you’d make if you played today. My answer is simple and has two parts: I’d be Alex Rodriguez, and I’m glad I’m not.
We are alike in that we both were shortstops and moved to third base. We both hit home runs, produced runs, won Gold Gloves, won MVP awards and a World Series championship. Most of my career I was the highest or close to the highest-paid player in baseball. Over the last decade, and forever, it’s him. We played under the highest pressure and expectations.