Unlike Jeter, A-Rod leaves Yankees without fans’ love

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Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0

NEW YORK (AP) – Alex Rodriguez’s time with the New York Yankees will be remembered for one World Series title, two MVP awards and countless controversies.

And for him not being Derek Jeter.

“When I’m amongst Yankee fans and the conversation turns to him, he’s not held with great fondness,” said Marty Appel, author of “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss.”

“There was just something about the way he related to people over the years that fell short of a warm embrace, whether it was body language or dating celebrities,” said Appel, a former Yankees media relations director and television producer. “The rank-and-file lunch-box-carrying people just never really took to him.”

Perhaps the most talented and notorious player of his era, Rodriguez is set to play his final game for the Yankees on Friday night at home against Tampa Bay. New York plans to release A-Rod after the game, even though the team must pay him about $7 million for the rest of this season and $20 million more next year.

“I think it’s going to be a crazy, electric stadium. I think there will be plenty of applause and there will be plenty of boos because people love to hate him,” said “Bald” Vinny Milano of the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures, who became an A-Rod fan after meeting him at a charity event. “There are always going to be Yankees fans who hate the guy, no matter what his on-field accomplishments were, no matter how great of a player he was on the field. Outside influences affect their opinion of the guy – whether they’re right, wrong or indifferent. They attack his personality or his attitude. But if you look at baseball only, there’s no way you can’t say he’s one of the best who ever played the game.”

Mariano Rivera got a sendoff tour, leaving the Yankee Stadium mound for the final time in tears when Jeter and Andy Pettitte removed him three years ago, setting off a thunderous 4-minute ovation.

Jeter, like Rivera a five-time World Series champion, got another round-the-league farewell and hit a game-winning single versus Baltimore on his final swing at Yankee Stadium in September 2014, raising both arms in triumph.

Mark Teixeira is still starting and will remain with the team until the end of the season after announcing this will be the final season.

Rodriguez, usually Yin to Jeter’s Yang, has been told pretty much to hit the road quickly with his .203 average as the Yankees turn to youth. He is being given a position as an adviser to mentor prospects next year, and his goodbye takes place with an undertone of good riddance.

“My job description does not entail a farewell tour,” manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday, explaining Rodriguez’s disappearance from the lineup.

A-Rod, who turned 41 last month, has hit .284 with 351 homers and 1,011 RBIs for the Yankees, helping them win their 27th Series title in 2009 but often failing in other postseasons.

But for some fans, he will never be in the same category as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Jeter.

A-Rod’s career was tainted by his 2009 admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03 and his season-long suspension in 2014 for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract. Fans at ballparks on the road held up signs deriding him as “A-Roid” and “Cheater.”

Before the World Series title, he was considered an automatic October out, his stature diminished by an 8-for-59 (.136) postseason funk from 2004-07 that included 18 consecutive hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position. And he leaves with just six postseason RBIs in his last 79 at-bats.

Still, he did hit .365 with six homers and 18 RBIs in the 2009 postseason. He did have 13 consecutive seasons with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs, seven of those years with the Yankees. And 1,578 of his 3,114 hits and a majority of his 696 home runs have been for New York.

He was on the field for spring training workouts at sunrise, the hardest worker on a team of professionals. He became a 14-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove shortstop and the 1996 AL batting champion. He trails only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in home runs, and his 2,084 RBIs are second to Aaron’s 2,297 since RBIs became an official statistic.

But Rodriguez was never just about baseball.

He made tabloid headlines for his divorce; dating Madonna, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Torrie Wilson; for sunbathing shirtless in Central Park; walking through a Toronto hotel lobby with a blond stripper; participating in high-stakes celebrity poker games; selling his Miami house for $30 million; and living in a Manhattan condominium with tax abatement.

There were the lawsuits, later dropped, against Major League Baseball; the Major League Baseball Players Association, Yankees head team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“Who brought more shame to the franchise? How many Yankee immortals sued the team doctor? The players association? Baseball itself?” said broadcaster and baseball historian Keith Olbermann, whose family had Yankees season tickets from 1972-2012. “Reggie (Jackson) got to three World Series in five seasons. Billy Martin? Seven in 15, right? Alex’s era with the Yankees is one of the most barren in franchise history. There will be no reason for the fans to recall him fondly or even positively.”

Even before Rodriguez was dealt to the Yankees by Texas in February 2004, he often was in the center of a storm. His record $252 million, 10-year contract with the Rangers in December 2000 put A-Rod in a permanent spotlight. In the April 2001 issue of Esquire, he transformed from Jeter’s friend to frenemy.

“Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him. He’s never had to lead,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying. “You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie (Williams) and (Paul) O’Neill. You never say, ‘Don’t let Derek beat you. He’s never your concern.'”

Former manager Joe Torre’s 2009 book with Tom Verducci said some teammates referred to Rodriguez as “A-Fraud” and compared A-Rod’s supposed obsession with Jeter to the movie “Single White Female.” That same year, Details magazine ran a photo of Rodriguez kissing his reflection in a mirror. Always concerned about his appearance, Rodriguez always emerged from the showers fully clothed in the clubhouse at new Yankee Stadium, never wanting to be seen getting dressed.

A-Rod famously was called out for interference when he swatted at Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove and knocked the ball loose during the 2004 AL Championship Series, three months after Arroyo hit Rodriguez with a pitch, causing A-Rod and catcher Jason Varitek to spark a brawl.

Rodriguez’s decision to opt out of his $252 million contract became public during the final game of Boston’s 2007 World Series victory. His record $275 million, 10-year deal to stay with the Yankees was finalized on the same day the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball was released.

With A-Rod’s body broken down from six trips to the disabled list since 2008 and his skills diminished, the Yankees have no use for him.

In making his announcement last weekend, Rodriguez admitted he’s “been to hell and back, and made every mistake in the book.”

His place in history will be a permanent debate.

“If he had any kind of personal epiphany at the end it came, like any Shakespearean tragic hero, too late,” Olbermann said. “Macbeth was still a villain. This guy, too.”

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