Alex Rodriguez is having a rather special comeback season. Already this year he has caught and passed Wille Mays on the career home run leader board and become only the fourth player ever to drive in over 2,000 runs. Now, add to that membership of the hallowed 3,000-hit club. At this point in his career, almost everything Rodriguez does on a baseball field puts him in exclusive company. Indeed, if he were to start a club only for those with 661 HR, 2,000 RBI and 3,000 hits, the one other candidate for admission would be Hank Aaron. This is about as exclusive as it gets.
What makes this statistical re-shaping of baseball history even more impressive is that Rodriguez isn't doing it while hanging on to undeserved playing time at the tail end of a career decline. He is currently on-pace for his strongest offensive season since 2008, better than many of his prime years, and far closer to his transcendent 2007 than above-average 2012 and 2013. Rather astonishing when heading into this season, 18 months older than when he was last on a major league baseball diamond, it seemed optimistic to hope he was still the hitter from 2013 much less the title-winning 2009 team.
Perhaps even more to his credit has been his class of the field this year, a stark contrast to the long, bruising battle with both Major League Baseball and the Yankee front office that featured scorched-earth tactics from all parties. By all accounts Rodriguez has always been a great teammate, respected and liked inside the clubhouse. Perhaps the marketing class he took during his year out of the sport has helped him better find that likable nature in interviews and public appearances as well. Perhaps it is just being a little older, a little wiser, having benefited from a little bit of reflection in his time away. Maybe it is simply that having been a punching bag for so long that he has drawn some sympathy, to have the narrative about him start to focus more on the charitable work and kindness to children in the stands who come to him for autographs, less about his missteps real or perceived.
Whatever it is, it is helping. The fans, the home ones anyway, at very least firmly support his performance and accomplishments; as exemplified in the way they mercilessly booed Sam Dyson for seemingly walking Rodriguez all-but-intentionally by throwing hard inside while A-Rod was at no. 2,999. His teammates are certainly with him, they may never have left; there was no group in Yankee stadium more delighted to see hit no. 3,000 sail into the stands than those in the home dugout.
Even Commissioner Manfred, who once called Rodriguez's career "sad and tarnished" when as Selig's point man was seeking to make an example out of A-Rod, has now seemingly at least reached a point of respectful co-existence.
"Alex has tried really hard to make a smooth and successful reentry into the game," Manfred said Thursday. "We appreciate the fact that he showed up here today.
Publicly thanking Rodriguez for making an appearance at an event for kids may not mean these two are now privately best-of-pals, but it is a semblance of a working relationship. A start.
Through the first part of the year, though, it seemed that the Yankee front office would not so easily forgive and forget. The very public dispute about the $6 million bonus for reaching Mays' home run mark, and the corresponding refusal to even acknowledge the milestone may have only ever been financially motivated but at times it did play out as a little petty and vindictive. Only Rodriguez's refusal to be drawn into airing dirty laundry in public prevented another full-on conflict between employer and employee. Even now, no arbitration dispute has been filed for the money, and hopefully such a battle can be avoided. Perhaps a tweet from the Yankees is a source for some hope.
From the Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees: "Congratulations Alex on your 3,000th hit."— New York Yankees (@Yankees) June 20, 2015
A simple message, hopefully a sincere one. Not quite how the Yankees celebrated Derek Jeter getting to no. 3,000. Nevertheless, it would be very positive to note that the Steinbrenners might have reached the same willingness to co-exist with Rodriguez as Commissioner Manfred. If nothing else, though, it is at very least a public olive branch.
It could also been seen as an acknowledgement, from the Steinbrenner family directly, of Rodriguez reaching an important milestone. While it does not speak to it being commercially marketable it is still more than Hank and Hal were willing to risk for home run number 660. Perhaps only a slight risk, but they are apparently not concerned about being seen to selectively downplay the milestone that did carry financial benefit, while acknowledging a less exclusive one that came with no money attached.
Through their media twitter arm, the Steinbrenners issued a congratulatory message to an employee for doing something significant, instead of pretending said employee didn't exist, or acted out of fear this message would be displayed in arbitration. Certainly this isn't much. It is however, a start. It is also a long, long way improved on where this relationship was just one year ago.
Mostly because of how Rodriguez has conducted himself, on the field and perhaps more so off it.