When Alex Rodriguez graced the front pages of the New York tabloids this week, it felt like a welcome respite — a callback to a simpler time (the mid-2000s – early-2010s) when Rodriguez’s dating life and pretty-boy antics drew the brunt of many New Yorkers’ ire. If you’ve not taken a gander at any newsstands or supermarket checkout counters, and if the news hasn’t crept into your social media feed, I’ve got one word for you: J-Rod. Yes, Alex Rodriguez is dating Jennifer Lopez.
Those imagining Rodriguez might fade into the Miami sunset after announcing his (forced) retirement last season were further disabused by news this week that Rodriguez signed with FOX as an MLB studio analyst.
That latter bit of news — which actually broke before the dating news chronologically — didn’t come out of left field. Rodriguez served as a guest studio analyst for FOX Sports during the 2015 World Series, and then reprised the role during the 2016 MLB postseason.
Ironically, the reviews of Rodriguez the commentator were almost universally positive. Rodriguez often appeared uncomfortable and insincere when he dealt with the media as a Yankee. But dressed in a suit, put alongside fellow Hall of Fame-caliber former players, and tasked with only talking about baseball, Rodriguez demonstrated poise and affability.
"I tell you what he's done: He's been self-deprecating,” FOX studio host Kevin Burkhardt told Newsday. “He's laughed. I think you've seen the human side of him. I've personally seen the human side of him. I didn't know him. He's been awesome. He's been one of the guys.”
But more than loosening up, Rodriguez excelled because of his insights. He is widely described as a baseball junkie, someone who had an uncanny ability to anticipate pitches and who would go home and watch other teams play after his own game let out. As a player, Rodriguez’s obsessiveness led to overthinking in critical situations. He gained a reputation in New York as a choke artist. But as an analyst, there’s no such thing as overthinking — especially amidst so many former-player analysts who underthink and speak in clichés and platitudes.
During last year’s postseason, Rodriguez eagerly and earnestly dove into the weeds of bat dimensions with Pete Rose. And before Game 6 of the NLCS he wisely questioned the conventional wisdom that extra rest would benefit Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, arguing that extra energy sometimes leads pitchers to overthrow — Kershaw, who pitched to a 1.69 ERA in the regular season, wound up allowing four runs in five innings.
Rodriguez is still a novice broadcaster. But his colleagues have attributed his quick learning curve to his maniacal work ethic. "I think we're all surprised at how quickly he's become good at this,” said John Entz, president of production for Fox Sports. “He gets all the credit, because he's not treating this as if it's a hobby. He's taking this very seriously. We've worked with current players who are done with their seasons in many sports over the years, and I would say that he by far has put in more time and more preparation than anyone else we've ever worked with."
It was surprising but ultimately explicable that Rodriguez excelled at media. And it was equally so that he wanted to enter the world of media in the first place. From a financial standpoint, Rodriguez certainly does not need to work another day in his life. So given the choice of spending his remaining days doing virtually whatever he pleases, it was curious that he would join ranks with the group that for so long was so hostile toward him.
Rodriguez has said that he might as well do professionally what he would be doing from his couch anyway. But as much as commentating might be fun and a new challenge for Rodriguez, it also provides him with an opportunity to shape his narrative. Rodriguez finished his career as one of the best players to ever play the game, but one whose reputation was tarnished by doping, lies about doping, collapse in high-leverage situations, and his salacious personal life.
The longtime FOX broadcaster Joe Buck was one of the people who pitched Rodriguez on giving commentating a shot. Buck described telling Rodriguez, “This is an opportunity for you, to allow people to see who you are, watch you talk, see how smart you are. And get your name back.”
Historians sometimes say you can’t judge a president’s legacy until they’ve been out of office for a half century. Perhaps the same is true of athletes. It’s hard to say whether the controversy surrounding Rodriguez will ultimately overshadow his performance. But given a platform on television, he’ll at least have a say.