Alex Rodriguez hired a new publicist recently. This was no surprise. He goes through flacks like a fat guy in a wing-eating contest, gnawing them to the bone before dumping them in the nearest receptacle, where they gladly land. The toughest jobs in spin-doctoring include the NRA, Big Tobacco and a 37-year-old megalomaniac who doesn’t make a troublesome product. He simply is one.
Again and again, A-Rod finds himself in this position: prone, vulnerable and in need of someone to clean up the messes he creates because those with whom he surrounds himself get paid more to rescue him from the muck than prevent him from wading into it. Time has proven he cannot help himself. Sometimes it’s innocuous bits like talking about sleepovers with Derek Jeter or commissioning a painting of a centaur with his head or macking on Z-list models during a playoff game. And others it is a whopper, like the one threatening to swallow his career whole.
Major League Baseball is going after Rodriguez, and now it’s got a star witness. Tony Bosch, the mastermind behind the Biogenesis clinic that allegedly supplied A-Rod with copious performance-enhancing drugs, has indicated to MLB he will offer details of his operation in exchange for the league dropping its lawsuit against him. His testimony could place Rodriguez square in the league’s sights, and that could mean up to a 100-game suspension, 50 for a non-analytical positive and 50 more for lying to the league in previous conversations about PEDs.
Compound that with Rodriguez’s return from a second major hip surgery, and it leaves his future in doubt. Despite public declarations of support, the New York Yankees desperately hope the injury forces him into retirement and allows them to cash insurance policies on the $100 million-plus remaining of the most ill-fated contract in sports history, a 10-year, $275 million albatross.
The ensuing fight is bound to get ugly. Sources with knowledge of the insurance coverage told Yahoo! Sports that the Yankees don’t own one policy but more than a dozen that combined could cover up to 80 percent of his remaining salary. Which means that not only would Rodriguez need to volunteer to step away from the game, the companies would look deep into his beaten-up body to determine whether the Yankees have a right to cash the policies.
Friends of Rodriguez’s say despite his worries that his ailing hip could leave him unable to play ever again – a concern he himself admits privately – he has zero intentions whatsoever of stepping away from baseball or the Yankees, even with the threat of 100 games hanging over his head. He values the money enough to fight the suspension – Rodriguez doesn’t cycle through high-paid public-relations people for nothing – and is too stubborn to let the Yankees shame him out of the Bronx.
The team has every right to be mad. Rodriguez is the highest-paid team-sport athlete on the continent. His contract is five years old and still hasn’t been usurped. And within that time frame, the Yankees have found out Rodriguez not only used PEDs once, he allegedly dabbled in them again despite knowing full well what the consequences and blowback would look like.
It’s ugly. When the most prominent team around pegs a player carcinogenic to the clubhouse, the stigma never leaves. Only a desperate team would stock up on enough Aleve to allay the headache Rodriguez’s arrival would prompt. So if he’s not wanted in New York, and he’s too much of a hassle everywhere else, Rodriguez will end up in the game’s no-man’s land, a place unthinkable when A-Rod looked like the heir – the natural heir – to Barry Bonds’ all-time home run title.
Instead, it is this – a referendum on PEDs, a fight brewing with the team that rues his contract more than any and another crisis in a career that produces them like widgets.
Rodriguez is the last person who needs such calamities, and his constant missteps are indicative that on the cusp of 40 he still does not have the faculties to limit his entourage to the sort of people with his best interests, and not his wallet, in mind. When Rodriguez signed his original monster deal, the 10-year, $252 million barrier-breaker with the Texas Rangers, he started to change, veering away from the kid who, if not endearing, was at very least tolerable with the Seattle Mariners. He delved deep into the real-estate market, a place where he still wheels and deals as though he’d rather be on “Million Dollar Listing” than “Sunday Night Baseball.”
That sort of hobby works for players who compartmentalize their lives. Rodriguez never has been able to do that, and those who have helped him do it best are among the legions of former employees whose company he misses dearly.
“He’s not a bad guy,” one Rodriguez confidante said. “He just doesn’t know how to act normal.”
Normalcy is a construct of one’s action, and choice after reckless choice has left A-Rod’s life anything but. For years he has tried to play the role of somebody in grand control of his fate. That is not so, not now. It’s in the hands of a charlatan who’s about to turn rat, the hands of a team that doesn’t want him and a league that wouldn’t miss him, the hands of his newest handler, who soon enough will meet the same fate as so many before him.
Jeff Passan is an award-winning columnist who has covered baseball since 2004. This article is reprinted here with the written permission of Yahoo!.