Retirement as art form: A-Rod bids game adieu

You gotta hand it to the Yankees, Mates, no matter how tough a swallow that may be for you. They’ve done it again.

Bumbling along in their most miserable season in a quarter century, bracing for an interminable and tedious re-build, answering for an era of vain pretension and dumb judgment, while having to endure the scorn of adversaries who’ve been yearning for this moment over a full generation, they nonetheless steal the show. They’re going nowhere this season, but they are dominating the conversation.

Hyper-dramatically, and within the span of little more than a week, they traded their best chips, rebuilt their farm system, and launched a new era by parting with two of their resident albatrosses while slamming shut the door on an entire historical epoch. You won’t forget this little interlude.

Classically, the Alex Rodriguez era ends not with a bang but a whimper; and quite literally that. There were moments in his official farewell bordering on the tearful, laced with touching pauses artfully rendered as he bit his lip or bowed his head. Ever nimble on stage, A-Rod has a genius for drenching even the most mundane moments with wrenching melodrama. Moreover, performing the humble and contrite A-Rod has always been A-Rod’s favorite role.

So the occasion of his tender goodby was a fast ball down the middle of the plate for the erstwhile slugger of the sort he used to routinely paste but now waves at hopelessly with all the verve and vigor of a rusty gate. If he’s 41, that’s only four months older than David Ortiz, and while the arch foe of his long-time arch rival goes on rumbling and will depart on a high note, A-Rod has crashed into the wall of final denial – with a thud that, if hardly surprising, is no less stunning – and now leaves us with a veritable moan. After all, only a year ago he hit 33 dingers.

Although he can no longer cut it on the field, Rodriguez remains all-star caliber in the much trickier games within the game. His exit has been brilliantly orchestrated. Only A-Rod could make so many feel so sorry for someone getting $26.4 million in severance pay from a team that three years ago pronounced him a pariah and charged that he had disgraced their illustrious brand, thus giving them the right to explore every means conceivable of cutting him loose and stiffing him without a penny. They failed, of course, there being no contract quite so ironclad as a baseball contract.

In return for the handsome payoff on the remaining balance of his outrageous deal that A-Rod now receives, he’ll only be obliged to render vague “counselor” services that will seemingly require him to drop by the ballpark to coddle some rookies with his familiar ragtime while being nice to the media, which will doubtless lap it all up. So the Yankees have essentially paid $26.4 million for the privilege of not having to put up with his uniformed presence anymore.

Consider the irony: It is monumental. The Yankees, who have long blustered so eloquently about the importance of “pride” in their precious legend, have had to swallow a lot of it in their dealings with the irascible A-Rod. You gotta give him credit – the man is a cookie. He out-witted them.

Now comes the great debate. How much damage should the ugly performance-enhancing drug smear that graces his otherwise glittering statistical profile affect his chances of moving on to Cooperstown, which alone might contain his boundless ego. He, of course, is a two-time loser and the only fully documented and fully confessed PED-cheat in the entire sorrowful annals of this enduring mess?

It has already cost him a full season, roughly $24 million in salary, plus at least $12 million in the bonuses he’d near certainly have otherwise earned, plus a shot at other highly prestigious records, including the spectacular honor of passing the mighty Babe on the all-time home run rolls, (albeit not Messrs. Aaron and Bonds). In short, Rodriguez has already paid a helluva price for his indiscretions, and while I wouldn’t argue it’s undeserved, it is fair to point out it’s more of a price than most other drug cheats will pay, some of whom are already enshrined at the Hall of Fame.

Whatever, in the end it’s likely this debate will soon become at best academic as it becomes increasingly clear that the fragile campaign to exile the cheats unmercifully is fast crumbling. All them will make it eventually, even charter members of the chronic offender sub-cult that decidedly includes A-Rod. If he gets more slack than others, I must confess I may not object.

He departs unchanged; still an enigma. If his life has been an open book, we know only the facade and fathom little of what made him tick. Beyond question was his brilliance with or without enhancements: a superb shortstop who three times hit more than 50 homers, five times leading the league, and one year he even stole 46 bases. Talk of your “five tools”!

It’s hard for us in this dodge to accept, but we won’t have A-Rod to kick around anymore. Such a pity!