Mike Schmidt, Alex Rodriguez and the Human Condition


People who think Alex Rodriguez is going to walk away from $114 million should not be allowed to feed or dress themselves without supervision.

The New York Yankees are not going to be able to void his contract, and he’s not going to retire. The Yankees made their bed when they signed A-Rod to his 10-year, $275 million deal, and now they must sleep in it.

And Rodriguez, who could be out until July after having surgery on his hip this off-season, isn’t going to step away from the game. Those thinking A-Rod has played his last game as a Yankee are kidding themselves.

So, just stop it already. Just stop it.

People want a Mike Schmidt moment, and they’re not going to get it.

Schmidt’s tearful goodbye to the game of baseball early in the 1989 season was highly unusual, both in its location and rapidity.

No one was expecting it. It came out of the blue. And the emotion surrounding the announcement, by a guy often criticized as being way too “Joe Cool,” caught everyone off guard.

It was one of those moments where, if you were a conscious sports fan at the time, you knew where you were when you saw it.

Schmidt and A-Rod are linked by this moment. People want to see a similar event, right now, from Rodriguez.

Here’s the only problem with that. A-Rod isn’t washed up. Schmidt was.

Schmidt has talked about why he decided to retire when he did.

Mired in a terrible slump to start the 1989 season, Schmidt, then 39 years old, had already been considering stepping away from the game. In his final one, an 8-5 loss to the Giants in San Francisco, he received his final push.

With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth, Schmidt committed an error, letting a ground ball go right through his legs, an error that loaded the bases. The next batter, Will Clark, hit a grand slam.

That, in Schmidt’s mind, all but sealed the deal.

In a telephone interview with the Philadelphia Daily News back in 2009, Schmidt recalled his thought process…

"“After the game, I walked into the clubhouse and it was like I was in a fog,” he said. “I showered real fast, paid the clubhouse guy and went out and sat on the bus all by myself for 30 or 40 minutes to contemplate my next move.”“And that was it. I just cleaned out my locker and waited to see if I would get any phone calls,” he said."

The next part of Schmidt’s thinking, though, is what separates him from ballplayers today, who insist on taking “retirement tours,” in an effort to acquire as much public adulation as possible before stepping away.

"“I think the important thing at the time of my decision is that the team – and you always want to put the team first – was not a contender. Everybody understood it was a rebuilding process. We weren’t going to win the division. Whether I was there or not, we were pretty much going to finish in the same place. Maybe it would be easier to rebuild without having to think about me. I was not going to be a big part of their future. Once I removed myself, the rebuilding process started working pretty quickly.”"

There can be no question Schmidt was thinking as much of the team as himself. Otherwise, he would have announced he was retiring at the end of the season, then spent the rest of the ’89 season taking up space on a last-place club while he received all the public attention the greatest third basemen in the history of baseball was due.

Only, he didn’t do that. That hastily-called press conference in the clubhouse of the San Diego Padres, 2700 miles away from Philadelphia, was his vehicle to say goodbye.

The guy didn’t even wait for the west coast road trip to finish up to announce his retirement.

What Schmidt did was selfless and, at the same time, extremely self-aware. He knew he was done. He was cooked. It was over and he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time pretending it wasn’t.

At the time, Michael Jack was hitting .203/.297/.372 with just 6 HRs in his first 42 games. And while he wasn’t hurt, a rotator cuff issue the year before cut short his ’88 season.

Mike Schmidt was hurting the team.

Alex Rodriguez is not. At least, not yet.

Oct 18, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez before game four of the 2012 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Even though A-Rod is no longer playing up to his contract, he’s still a somewhat productive third baseman. Last year, he posted a WAR of 2.0, hitting .272/.353/.430 with 18 HRs in 122 games.

Clearly, those are not typical A-Rod numbers, but they are still above replacement level.

There is also the money, which is a tremendous motivating factor.

At the time of his retirement, Schmidt was among the highest-paid players in baseball, but at the time, was making just $2 million a year. Collusion by baseball owners helped keep salaries down in those days, so future earnings were not much of a consideration.

Alex Rodriguez is still owed $114 million on a contract that has five years left on it. One could argue Schmidt may have thought twice about the timing of his retirement had that much money been left on the table for him.

Of course, hopefully when A-Rod truly realizes he’s not a productive player anymore, once he realizes he’s hurting the team and that he’s washed up, he’ll do what Mike Schmidt did.

One would hope he would pack it in and retire, for the good of the team.

That would be lovely.

The truth, though, is that big-time sports simply don’t work the way they did in 1989. Most athletes don’t do what Mike Schmidt did, which is what makes it all the more special.

So even though just about every Yankee fan (and probably most baseball fans) would love to see A-Rod say goodbye tomorrow, it’s not going to happen.

Get used to seeing Alex Rodriguez on a baseball field for quite some time.