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Alex Rodriguez’s career was outstanding, flawed, and undeniably human

There is no denying that A-Rod’s career was controversial, but it was still a real experience.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

To be honest, it has felt like the end of the amazing career of Alex Rodriguez has been coming for a few years now. No one knew for sure how his aging body would react to a second hip surgery in 2013. No one knew if he could physically return to the game after being suspended for all of 2014.

However, it took until this day in 2016 for A-Rod to announce that his Yankee Stadium finale was forthcoming. It is unclear right now how much he will play this week (though Joe Girardi said it’s A-Rod’s call), but this much is true: Friday, August 12th will be the end of the road. Maybe he makes a Brett Favre-like comeback with the Marlins or some other team down the road since he didn’t actually announce his retirement. In all likelihood though, that is when he will wrap up a journey that has lasted over two decades.

Numerous people don’t like Alex Rodriguez. They say he’s an embarrassment to the game since he took performance-enhancing drugs and according to the media, had an off-putting personality for a long time. They’re entitled to their opinions.

Honestly, I went through conflicting periods as well. When I was in high school, I was endlessly frustrated by his playoff performances. The Slap was ridiculous and reeked of desperation. The rift between Derek Jeter and him was caused by a combination of his comments in 2001 and Jeter’s apparent reluctance to forgive, even when they became teammates. (That led to serious awkwardness in 2006, particularly on one pop-up.) I was disappointed that he admitted taking PEDs after his name appeared on the anonymous 2003 list.

When A-Rod fought the Yankees and Major League Baseball in 2013 on the Biogenesis suspension, it was a different experience entirely since I was writing about it for this site. It was exhausting covering all the angles and reactions, and it’s not like I was even a real member of the media trying to hunt down information. I wasn’t alone. Several member of the Pinstripe Alley staff were just tired of dealing with his news. Everyone has their limits. If he had been released, we wouldn’t have been heartbroken. If he had been banned for life, it would have been the ultimate sketchy act by MLB in a shady investigation, but we wouldn’t have cried.

Yet through it all, there were so many highlights. He was a wunderkind and the first overall pick of the 1993 MLB Draft. Statistically, he will be the greatest number one pick of all-time, even better than Ken Griffey Jr. or Chipper Jones. He was a prodigy at age 20, already in the discussion for “best player in baseball,” winning a batting title in 1996 with tremendous defense despite getting jobbed out of an MVP. A-Rod was Mike Trout at a more valuable position.

He forged a ridiculously good eight-year run in Seattle and Texas before coming to the Yankees, hitting .308/.382/.581 with 345 homers, 63.5 WAR, and countless accolades. He earned the most groundbreaking contract in the history of baseball: 10 years and $252 million back when no one even made close to that amount. A-Rod was a member of the 40-40 Club! No one even remembers that when in comparison, that was basically the apex of Jose Canseco’s playing career. He won one MVP in Texas but probably should have already had at least three prior to even putting on the pinstripes.

Then, A-Rod was traded to the Yankees after an absolutely absurd off-season in which he was almost dealt from Texas in a three-way exchange to the Red Sox for their stars, Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. (Reminder that booing Boston fans would have been ecstatic at the time.) I remember being both shocked and excited when I found out about the trade. The Yankees added the best player in baseball to a team that was already a perennial World Series contender. He was even willing to move to third base despite being a better shortstop than Jeter. One of my friends immediately got A-Rod’s Yankees shirsey and wore it to school the next day. I was very jealous.

Two MVP seasons followed, including A-Rod’s unbelievable 54-homer 2007 campaign, which remains the greatest display by a single player that Yankees fans have seen since the days of Mickey Mantle. Not even Jeter could reach that plateau. He more than capably handled the transition to third, too. The playoff struggles were painful, and it was hard for a high school kid to simply acknowledge “small sample size.” I always defended that he dominated the 2004 ALDS victory over the Twins, but I had no answer for the four subsequent series losses. The fact that Jeter also looked like garbage in the 2007 ALDS loss to Cleveland at least helped abate those feelings.

One perk from that initial playoff slump was that it made 2009 all the more gratifying. I’ve never seen one player take over a post-season quite like A-Rod did in 2009. Sure, Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltran had hellacious playoff runs in ‘02 and ‘04, but neither ended in a championship. We got to experience all the redemptive clutch dingers and a title on top:

Those were the highest heights. Four years later came the dregs. Sure, it was fun to embrace him as the anti-hero, especially when he answered Ryan Dempster’s obnoxiousness with a huge home run. As previously mentioned though, the process of covering his inevitable suspension was grueling.

We all needed that year off in 2014. I didn’t know what to expect when he reported to the Yankees in 2015, and I was overjoyed that out of nowhere, vintage A-Rod was back. For the first time in five years, he reached 30 homers and received down-ballot MVP votes. The Yankees’ return to the postseason was brief, but it wouldn’t have been possible without A-Rod’s resurgence, even though entering his forties, he slowed down by season’s end. He re-established his reputation as an awesome teammate by being a mentor in the clubhouse and helping to fix the defensive woes of newcomer Didi Gregorius. For a little while, it seemed like A-Rod successfully carved a niche as mashing DH/clubhouse dad.

The latter tag stuck in 2016, but regrettably, the former did not. Just like Jeter’s rapid decline in 2014, it was a drag watching A-Rod play baseball and that was a real shame. He eventually ended up on the bench, and some kind of divorce was in the works. After 2015, it felt inevitable that he would reach the fun round number milestone of 700 homers. Barring a crazy week, he will fall just shy.

That’s life though, isn’t it? A-Rod had an imperfect career, so it feels unfortunately fitting that it should end this way. I never disliked him the way so many people did, but it was frustrating at times, there is no denying that. Then again, that’s also life. A-Rod was far from the only player to take PEDs, and yet he shares the brunt of the criticism with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. People close to you will make mistakes. You will make mistakes. Decent folks won’t shun you forever because of them.

A-Rod apologized, admitted his errors, and served his suspension without a peep. He came back with a reformed image, a new sense of purpose, and brought countless fans joy in 2015. A-Rod has never been involved with crime, domestic violence, cocaine, assault, or anything like that. He’s never been one to argue with umpires either, and he certainly never destroyed property in the dugout. The love he has for his daughters is incredibly endearing. So even if one has conflicting feelings about him, he should instantly be more likable than many athletes.

Some will hold A-Rod’s PED use against him forever. I won’t. I’ll be grateful for all the awesome seasons, the 351 home runs in pinstripes, the unforgettable playoff run in 2009, and yes, his hilarious pursuit of helmets after walk-off homers. It wasn’t the classic storybook career like Jeter’s, but it was closer to real life. Plenty of people prefer those kinds of stories in the movies to what seems “too perfect.”

So thank you, A-Rod. It’s been a pleasure. Hit one more dinger this week—you know it would be awesome.

Kunj Shah