By Tony Massarotti

By Tony Massarotti

OK, let’s play word association. You say: Alex Rodriguez. I say: Pathetic has-been.

Should we go on?

Earth to the New York media: I recognize you need your spring training stories – been there, bro – but nobody cares about A-Rod anymore. Of course, maybe we should really be directing that message at Rodriguez himself. Nearly 18 months have passed since Rodriguez played in a major league game of any sort, and he has not played a postseason affair since 2012. That October, Rodriguez went 3-for-25 with 12 strikeouts during an American League Championship Series sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers that ultimately saw him land on the bench.

If you ask me, he was cooked then.

True story: during his years with the Red Sox, former Boston catcher Jason Varitek all but scoffed anytime anyone asked him about “A-Rod.” Varitek would go so far as to interrupt someone in mid-sentence – “You mean Alex?” he would say in a correcting tone – because he found the man’s nickname as inflated as Rodriguez’ sense of self-worth. Fine, so Alex didn’t like Jason, either. The two famously brawled in 2004. But in many ways, Varitek spoke for an entire population of major league players who have always held Rodriguez in contempt for being, rather simply, the most selfish and self-centered egomaniac in an industry filled with them.

What many of us believe now, of course, is that Rodriguez is an especially wounded child beneath that composite exterior, which is really kind of sad. Rodriguez always had more ability than his chief contemporary, Derek Jeter. He just didn’t have the makeup. For all the attention Rodriguez sought during his career, he routinely wilted under it. On the field and off, as it turns out. In assorted postseason series with the Yankees, Rodriguez batted .133, .071, .190, .111, .125 and .111. His career postseason batting average of .263 was noticeably lower than his career regular season number of .299, and it was worse if you eliminate the productive 2009 postseason in which A-Rod was not the focus.

That October, C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were the ones in New York’s crosshairs, and so Alex flourished.

If only Alex understood the irony. The less attention he got, the better he played.

Let’s make something clear here: at his peak, with or without steroids, Rodriguez was a truly great, gifted player. At 22 years old, he authored one of the few 40-40 seasons in baseball history. Anyone who saw Rodriguez play in his youth recognized the breadth and depth of his talent, the personification of a true five-tool player. In the end, people like me will vote for Rodriguez for the Hall of Fame the same way we vote for Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. Because he was great. At least during the regular season.

Of course, just as it did with Bonds and Clemens, that all made the cheating – alleged or otherwise – all the more needless. High risk, low reward. According to baseball-reference.com, Rodriguez already has earned in excess of $356 million in salary during his career, which is a pile of dough. But he got greedy more than once, in more ways than one, and so the damage done to his reputation and career has been equally as costly, if not more so.

Again, classic Rodriguez. He never could see beyond his own scope.

Lest anyone think the Yankees have been entirely blameless in all this, think again. When Rodriguez opted out of his 10-year, $252 million contract following the 2007 season – he and then-agent Scott Boras tactlessly did this during the World Series – the Yankees rewarded him with an even bigger contract, a decision for which they are still paying. Then there are stories like yesterday’s, suggesting the Yankees were annoyed that Rodriguez gave them no advance notice before showing up to camp two days early.

Hello? Anybody home? Rodriguez has three years and more than $60 million remaining on his contract through 2017, but that is a relatively small price to pay at this point. That number becomes even smaller if one assumes that Rodriguez isn’t likely to see the end of this contract, anyway, meaning that the Yankees will eventually end up paying millions for a player they will have released, be it in 2017 or before.

The point: why didn’t the Yankees just release him now and be done with it? Nobody in baseball would come within a foul pole of Rodriguez anymore. He can’t hurt them any more from the outside than he does from the inside. And if the Yankees are trying to somehow punish Rodriguez by making him play out his contract, they are likely doing as much harm to themselves as they are to him.

For sure, there is the possibility Rodriguez will serve as the designated hitter for this Yankees team, but that is hardly the point. Rodriguez is a clown show now the same way that Jose Canseco was at the end of his career, and he will likely lead a circus life like Canseco after his banishment from the game, too. We must all wonder why the Yankees didn’t pull the plug on Rodriguez now, no matter the cost.

Please, put him out of his misery.

Spare him.

Spare us all.

***

Tony Massarotti covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.

Tony Massarotti

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