From afar, Alex Rodriguez often seemed larger than life -- a 6-foot-3, 230-pound Adonis with more talent than perhaps anyone in the game's history. Up close, he could often appear small and petty, so insecure and needy he would seek reassurances on his abilities from the likes of hit king Pete Rose or even lowly sportswriters.
When you mixed all of the contrasts together, love him or hate him, he became Major League Baseball's most interesting man. While friend and sometimes rival Derek Jeter had a career that could be neatly described inside a Hallmark greeting card, Rodriguez’s tale was an epic novel, far more fascinating because of the enormity of his abilities and the frailty of his personality.
Now, A-Rod is walking away. He and the Yankees have agreed that his final game will be Friday; after, he'll take on a special adviser role with the team. He is going to be missed because there may never be a more excessive career than Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez's.
The excess was everywhere. When he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners out of Miami's Westminister Christian High School at age 17 with the No. 1 pick of the 1993 draft, it was his excessive talent. By 18, when he made his debut in the majors, it was his potential. By the time he was 20, when he made his first All-Star team and finished second in the American League MVP race, it was his value on a baseball field.
By 25, it was his financial worth. Rodriguez left Seattle for the Texas Rangers to sign the then-richest contract in the history of American sports, a 10-year, $252 million deal. By 27, it was his vanity; he couldn't stand to be an MLB afterthought in Arlington, Texas, and, in his telling, first turned to performance-enhancing drugs to justify his enormous contract.
By 28, it was his desire to win. He came to the Bronx and switched positions, moving from shortstop to third to accommodate Jeter. By 33, it was his duplicity, after he was first found out to have used performance-enhancing drugs -- even though he had presented himself as a golden boy, destined to be the true home run king.
By 34, it was his clutch hitting, as he put together one of the most amazing postseason batting performances in MLB history, hitting game-winning homers -- all the way to a 2009 World Series title -- like NBA stars knock down buzzer-beaters.
By 37, it was his despicable behavior. Not only was he caught up in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal, but he blamed, sued and lied about everyone and anyone to try to weasel out of punishment. By 39, it was his rejuvenation, as he not only came back from a yearlong PED suspension, but he hit 33 home runs and, combined with a contrite attitude, ended up being, of all things, liked again.
Now, at 41, the excess is gone. He is stepping aside after Friday because he is a benchwarmer for the first time in his life.
What has never changed is A-Rod’s genuine passion for baseball. Some have argued that his use of PEDs disqualifies him from loving baseball because he has disgraced the game, but that is an unfair assessment of the man. Rather, it was Rodriguez's fanatical desire to be the best, combined with his insecurities, that made him look to add even more ingredients to his five-tool skills.
Rodriguez has always seemed like a man who has everything and nothing all at once. A good-looking MVP with famous girlfriends and $400 million in the bank from baseball alone, he appears as if he has it all -- everything except comfort in his own skin.
Early in his Yankees career, his discomfort manifested itself in how he treated others. He often did not come across as the good guy, spurning interaction with fans, reportedly asking clubhouse attendants to put the toothpaste on his brush and examining the credentials of sportswriters to see if a publication was worthy enough to speak to him.
His concern about his public image rubbed many the wrong way. Yankees teammates allegedly called him "A-Fraud" behind his back during the early part of his career in the Bronx, while opponents, like Trot Nixon of the Boston Red Sox, described him as a “clown.”
In the end, it is often most important that you learn from your mistakes. Despite his diminished skills and how low he has sunk after the yearlong suspension, it seems Rodriguez grew a little. Since his return from that suspension, A-Rod has been more approachable, and he has seemingly handled everything the right way. Even with the Yankees benching him this season, he never publicly complained.
Rodriguez was only sticking around because of the excess of his 10-year, $275 million contract, with its milestone home run bonuses. Rodriguez has 696 homers, fourth all time.
His PED ban might keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
But even if he never receives a plaque in Cooperstown, A-Rod will remain unforgettable. Everything about him will be missed.