Sketch by Henry Gustavson
BOTTOM OF THE FIRST: YANKEES 1 (0) – 1 RAYS
A president’s term near over. Letterman gone. Stewart gone. Colbert Colbert gone. And in the sports world Jeter gone. Mariano and Kobe and Peyton gone. Phelps, he insists, gone too. Papi’s last months flying by in a blur. The Wheaties-box heroes of a childhood now retired and gone within a year, their on-field ashes scattered among the montages and the career statlines, highlight reels and storylines. And the last, the very last of the holdouts from the days of ‘90s/00’s fame longevity—the great, the loathed, the historic, the only: Alex Rodriguez.
Tonight was his last game in the major-leagues.
— The Players’ Tribune (@PlayersTribune) August 13, 2016
His first came two weeks after the O.J. Simpson freeway chase. Forrest Gump was in theaters. Brazil had beaten Italy, a week later, at the Rose Bowl for the World Cup ’94 win. A month before the baseball strike that ended the season in August. Eighteen years old, at Fenway Park with the Mariners.
And now, in the Bronx with the Yankees, at forty-one—a game, a first inning, a lineup spot, and another occasion to step out onto the field to play a role he’ll depart by evening’s end. Yankee Stadium rustles with the sound of hands by the thousands shifting from pockets up into applause—a portion of stubborns standing pat, and the rest bestowing one last final salute to this king of complicated kings. The sports world tunes in still deciding how to feel: We hated this man, it seems to say, but how sad will it be to lose that hate?
It’ll serve no good to recite the litany of lowlights, the long reel of sins to point out what’s been pointed out far too many times—that A-Rod wasn’t always too great a sport. It’s been known, it’s been documented, repeated to the point where likeability comes back into the fold, just to be contrarian. But in this final first inning in New York, there was none of that. No scandal, no nothing.
Just Archer vs. Rodriguez. Gardner on first. A 2-2 count, with a string of sliders, then a pitch, a swing, a thwack off the bat and a ball lined over the second-baseman on a bouncing shot toward the wall. He hits it and watches it fly over the grass, claps once and trots to first, then on to second. Arrives in time, standing up, fists clenched and flexed more in relief than joy, his family in the stands above, looking down and cheering, and a chant around the stadium: “Let’s go A-Rod!!!” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
The organ plays. A sea of cell phones rise up taking video, obscuring faces spread wide on a spectrum of emotion—disapproval, awe, curiosity, reverence, or some internal combination of them all. A complicated night, a complicated feeling, framing a simple swing and simple hit, a simple charge home from Gardner, the game now tied in the first.
Alex Rodriguez came up in the first inning with a game-tying double: pic.twitter.com/HPmHqRGwon
— Max Wildstein (@MaxWildstein) August 13, 2016
“It’s been a very complicated week,” says one of the Yankees’ TV guys. A forced retirement, and a mid-season release. Rodriguez wanting to play the field, Girardi reluctantly budging. A team still on the edge of the Wild Card hunt, keen to avoid distraction.
“It’s an awkward situation for everyone involved,” the TV guy says. “And it has been a bizarre week.”
Before the game, a clap of thunder and sudden rain came down onto a retirement ceremony—the less venerated version of Rivera and Jeter’s farewells, a bare minimum washed out by the storm, cut short as if unapproved of on high. A grumpy sigh from the gods of Yankeedom.
And Alex Rodriguez at the center of it all, half-shamed and half-honored, unsure himself how to feel. Where he stands. How his career goes down. Who he becomes from now.
Alex Rodriguez, standing in the rain of the Big Apple, an orange sunset cracking open in the distance. Let it rain, he seems to say, Oh, let it rain.
‘Cause rain drops will hide my tear drops, and no one will ever know
That I’m crying, crying when I go outside…
To the world outside my tears, I refuse to explain—Oh I wish it would rain…
See more of Henry’s artwork here: gustavgustav.com