As 3-Time MVP Walks Away, It's Fair To Wonder If He Ever Found True Happiness During His Career

By Jason Keidel
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No idea how he does it.

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Is it his lingering good looks? His endless pauses littered with tearful hiccups? Is it the fact that, no matter his malfeasance, he truly does love the game he disgraced so many times?

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Even to yours truly, who has vaporized Alex Rodriguez for years, for his cheating, his lying, his rinse and repeat since he put on the pinstripes, he came across as wholly sympathetic Sunday. Not even the most ardent A-Rod hater could hate what he saw from him during his somber farewell speech. But even the most ardent A-Rod apologist had to be bewildered by the whole thing, including the timing to the bizarre presser, when most folks are either sleeping or strolling toward their house of worship.

Alex Rodriguez fights back tears on Aug. 7, 2016, as he announces he will play his final game on Aug. 12. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Alex Rodriguez fights back tears on Aug. 7, 2016, as he announces he will play his final game on Aug. 12. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Even this arbitrary date, Aug. 12, when he will play his last game, is as odd and opaque as his career, always lurking somewhere between the fair and foul play, between logic and illogic, between real and surreal.

He has always been about way more than the numbers, no matter how prodigious they are. There was something innately different about Rodriguez, even in his pristine prime. There was a resonant pain, a sensitivity, a big, raw nerve that hung like a limb from his soul. For someone who spent so much time at the top, he seemed way too close to the bottom.

Rodriguez will finally drift into the baseball horizon, alone, with his epic numbers, epic rap sheet and heavy conscience. He goes from A-Rod, the athletic genius who made scouts, foes and females drool for 20 years, back to Alex — a father, adviser and friend.

Friend. How many friends does he really have?

We assume someone of his heft, wealth and fame can throw a dart from his penthouse and peg someone who adores him. But that’s a silly assertion based on assumed qualities.

How many friends does anyone in his orbit really have? How many people has he befriended, charmed, loved and betrayed? How many people adore A-Rod, and how many really care about Alex? He must wonder that way more than we ever will. Maybe he can finally find out.

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A-Rod’s life has played out in public, much like a big, baseball novella, filled with everything, from the glory to the gory. Nothing about him is clear, from his bulging stats to his personal relationships to the one with his own employer, which seemed to be in quite a hurry to get him off the very field he owned for two decades.

Yet when he sat there, in a room throbbing with reporters, to the endless shutters and blinding flashes of cameras, he was entirely alone, his lips trembling, his red eyes bubbling with tears. And it was impossible not to feel something for him.

And he became a microcosm of his career, of his life before us — equal parts man, player, and parable. He slowly undressed himself before us, morphing from A-Rod to Alex. And in that moment we could see the aggregate pain and shame of his life, the hope and life and excitement that made him so engaging.

He was at once beaming and blushing, as though his face were a billboard for all the deeds and the sins. We can only imagine how many thoughts and regrets flashed through his mind during those solemn moments at the podium. And rarely has a face been so accessible, telling and haunted. A-Rod was doing way more than retiring. He was surrendering.

This was about way more than his batting average or a faulty swing or his decaying skill set. This was about a man who had no more fight in him, who wanted to rip off the personal and professional facade, to end his life as an immortal and begin one as a mere mortal. He wants to be whole. And who can blame him?

And it made this writer wonder if we’ve ever seen him in the one state that fame is supposed to provide — happy. Stars work so hard to get where they are, then they spend the rest of their lives warning us that stardom doesn’t make you whole. Yet we still want what they have.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, from Judy Garland to Amy Winehouse, from Howard Hughes to Orson Welles, from Jimi to Janis to Doc and Darryl to L.T. to Mike Tyson, we still want to be like them.

We say we will be different. If we get what they got, we will make it work. We are different. We will emerge from the funhouse of fame intact. Just ask all the lottery winners who file for bankruptcy in 24 months.

Turns out they are no different from us, and we are no different from them. Turns out A-Rod is just as lonely as the rest of us. Maybe once he finally and forever returns to Alex, he can find some peace.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel