Alex Rodriguez has been a natural leader throughout his time in pinstripes, with a strong work ethic who has always taken an interest in mentoring young players.
The Yankees see that Rodriguez has the qualities of a future coach or manager, and would like him to be a part of building this team.
That is why, when Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner determined the Yankees would release Rodriguez, he offered him the chance to stay in the organization as a special advisor and instructor for the 2017 season.
It didn’t take Rodriguez long to accept.
“I was incredibly humbled and flattered that he wanted me to spend time with the next generation of Yankees,” Rodriguez said at his big press conference on Sunday morning. “That’s a role that I’ve enjoyed my entire career, especially after arriving here in 2004, so I’m looking forward to that.
“It was Hal’s idea and I give him a lot of credit for believing in me, having faith in me. I think he recognized early on that I really enjoy working with some of the great players that come through the system. We keep drafting great players, developing them, and some are here, some are elsewhere, but we do have an incredible amount of talent in the minor leagues. We have some guys that we’ve seen here this year that have incredible futures. The Yankees are excited and I’m excited.
“The goal in New York never changes. It’s to bring a world championship to our great fans every year and this is another way that I can bring value to our franchise.
“I think both Hal and I are very serious about the possibility of bringing value to these young players. There’s such a long bridge between Tampa and New York and what happens in those formative years for our players is very important. And I think I can bring enormous value to these players on how to get it done from A to Z.”
Rodriguez also was very forthright in admitting that he is not perfect, and he will use his varied experiences as an example to young players on not what to do.
“A guy like me who has been to hell and back and made every mistake in the book, I think they can learn equally from all the mistakes that I’ve made and hopefully not make them,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez joined the Yankees in 2004, and in his 12 years in New York, he has always taken young players under his wing.
Early in his Yankees tenure, he was a mentor to Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera.
Rodriguez can always be seen in the dugout during games chatting with young players, as he was Sunday with Starlin Castro.
The effect that A-Rod had on the young players is not lost on manager Joe Girardi.
“This goes back to the first day I met him,” Girardi said. “You know I used to say some of my most enjoyable times at the ballpark was, you know, and I’m a substantial distance from where we eat, and I’m in my office, and I can hear the young kids laughing with Al, enjoying his company.
“Now some of this is fun, but he’s also teaching the game the whole time. I remember him taking Robbie Cano out in spring training, and this was before Robbie really started to put up big numbers, and we talked to Al about, ‘can you help him with his approach with runners in scoring position?’ and Al took him out to the back fields, and all of a sudden, Robbie became a 30 and 100 guy. You could write it in, and it was because Alex talked to him about his approach.
“He has been a teacher forever, whether it’s in spring training, whether it’s been during the middle of the season, just things that he sees. He has a love for this game as much as any person I’ve ever met, so I think teaching becomes natural because a) he loves the game so much and he loved to talk about it, and b) he also wanted to win, and he knew to get the best out of his teammates, he had to lend some of the knowledge that he had.”
One thing about Rodriguez that tends to get overlooked is the competitor that he is and, in some ways, is the hardest worker on the Yankees.
“Alex had what I want everybody to have in life. He had a passion for something, and that passion was for baseball,” Girardi said. “Some of it might be for writing, some of it might be for broadcasting, some of it might be a doctor, a teacher, but Alex had a love for what he did. To me, that made it easy to manage because he worked, and he worked, and he worked, and always tried to get the best out of himself and others.
“Alex worked as hard as any player I’ve ever met. Sometimes you think superstars, it just comes easy for them. Yeah, Alex made it look easy, but my gosh, did this guy work, and he worked, and he worked. Sometimes, maybe he overworked. Sometimes, maybe that 300 swings he took in the cage were too many that day, but he truly loved this game, and that love will never leave.”
The Yankees noticed not only the mentor Rodriguez is to younger players in New York, but that he also had an eye for talent. He always took an interest in who the Yankees had in the minor leagues, something you don’t hear said often about a superstar.
“He’s a great evaluator, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Sunday morning. “I mean, just to point out some things, I was thinking earlier today, whenever he would be on an injury rehab assignment, it wasn’t too long ago he came out of Tampa in the Florida State League a few years back, he was like, ‘who’s this Greg Bird?’ This guy can really swing the bat.’ He’s sharing this with local media and with our internal personnel that we, this is a kid we drafted out of Colorado high school and our fans saw perform last year before he got hurt and that cost him the 2016 season.
“That’s the kind of guy, he sees talent, he assesses it accurately, he mentors guys, takes them under their wing, talks about mechanical adjustment. He has to get together, whether its the head of the player development department, Gary Denbo, or our Major League coaching staff, or Joe Girardi, our manager, or our scouting personnel. He loves that aspect of the game.
“I think he wants to be an owner one day, but anything below that in a field uniform, he’s already plug ‘n’ play. He’s exceptional on the baseball end in terms of the teaching and evaluating side, he always has been, it’s never been a weakness, and he’s been a strong leader throughout the process since we’ve had him. Younger players do gravitate to him.
“I still remember going to Miami, we were looking at a guy out of the draft, he’s like, ‘hey, take a look at this young kid, Manny Machado, he’s going to be good.’ He didn’t fall down to us, Baltimore got him early, but I remember Alex talking to us about him. Damon Oppenheimer calls me up and says, ‘hey, Alex is telling me there’s a kid we need to see,’ but we knew he wasn’t going to fall to us. Again, he can identify real talent and not everybody can do that, to be honest.”
Rodriguez has always had an interest in the next generation of players, and the Yankees are confident he can help build their next dynasty.