When Alex Rodriguez takes the field Tuesday night with the Double-A Trenton Thunder, he will do something he has seldom done: be boring.
Placed on the disabled list on May 4, A-Rod is preparing to make his return to the Yankees — and given that he is earning $21 million this year, it’s safe to assume he will be called up sooner rather than later. But his continued presence in the lineup is far from certain: Carlos Beltrán has filled in admirably as New York’s designated hitter through most of Rodriguez’s 19-game absence. This season A-Rod has batted just .194 with five home runs and 12 RBIs; the Yankees were 7–13 in games he played and have gone 13–6 since he went on the DL.
A-Rod in 2016 is, well, just not very interesting.
This is not the A-Rod of yore. You know this, but it can be, in his quieter, 40-something days, easy to forget how things once were. There was Cameron Diaz tenderly feeding him popcorn on live TV. The tabloids (“Stray-Rod”!) and the glove slap. The countless controversies of his own creation: the pictures of him shirtless on a rock in Central Park; the photo shoot in which he kissed his reflection in a mirror; the time he asked for a woman’s number via a note on a baseball during the 2012 ALCS. And — oh, yes — there were the reported portraits of him as a centaur, a rumor so preposterous, so delicious, and so tacky that America seemed to agree unanimously it must be true.
Of course, there is also his PED history: the cheating; the lying; the Not Playing The Game The Right Way. The Yankees spent the duration of A-Rod’s 162-game drug suspension trying to find a way out of paying his contract. They could not, however, and upon his return to the Bronx last season the Yankees hoped A-Rod would be mediocre and tired and old — a reasonable expectation after he missed all of 2014! — so they could quietly nudge him toward the sunset. But A-Rod remained A-Rod, and quiet was never part of the plan. The Yankees tried to bury his impending 3,000th hit; instead, A-Rod stormed into ’15 socking dingers, and when 3,000 arrived, the Yankees were forced to acknowledge it (if belatedly).
Say what you will about A-Rod, but over 22 years in the majors, he has never been boring … until, maybe, now. Tuesday was supposed to mark his return to Yankee Stadium, against the Blue Jays. But first he’ll return to the field against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, at Arm & Hammer Park, and in a way that is oddly fitting.
If A-Rod’s numbers don’t improve — if the Yankees make him, say, a ludicrously expensive pinch hitter while he rides out the remaining year and a half of his contract — we might very well see his career end with a whimper. He didn’t go out amid the blaze of his PED suspension; he didn’t flame out in his reentry to the Bronx; and he won’t, if this year’s early at-bats are any indication, enjoy a fawning season-long farewell. A-Rod might just finish his career in the least A-Rod way possible: quietly.