In December 2007, Randy Levine, president of the New York Yankees, helped re-sign third-baseman Alex Rodriguez to a ten-year contract worth $275 million, which was, and still is, the richest contract in the history of professional sports. For Levine, it was a giant bet, an Empire State Building–size stack of chips on the possibility that A-Rod, by consensus the best hitter and all-around player in baseball, would add to the Yankees’ bulging shelf of championships while mounting a serious campaign to break the home-run record. For Rodriguez, the contract was both a recognition of his immense talent and an outlandish promise to keep. It goes without saying that, over the course of a Yankees tenure that included two MVP years and a world championship, numerous slumps and streaks, and a pair of drug scandals that have come to define his career as much as his talent has, the men would have much to talk about, which they did primarily via e-mail. In the course of reporting the magazine’s December 9, 2013, cover story (“Chasing A-Rod”), I viewed a trove of the electronic correspondence between Rodriguez and Levine, a selection of which is excerpted below.
May 11, 2011
The Yankees lose to the Royals 4-3; Rodriguez, batting cleanup, collects just one hit in five at-bats.
Levine: Hey, tough game, I’m worried about your health, u sure u r ok? You look to me like you’re a little off. If just a slump, you will come out, but if more, let me know.
Rodriguez: Hey Randy, yes, tough game. Just a little jumpy at the plate. I feel fine. I’ve been working hard with Kevin Long [Yankees hitting coach]. I will start hitting soon. My team needs me. We will win tomorrow. Have a great night.
May 17, 2011
Rodriguez hits two home runs, leading the team to a win over Tampa Bay.
Levine: Way to go, welcome back … enjoy start of a roll.
Rodriguez: Yessir!! Our team needs me to hit and lead us.
Levine: U are the man. I told u that for years. U can and will do it.
October 2, 2011
The divisional series against Detroit is tied at one game apiece.
Levine: u r the leader … Keep confidence strong, get us home.
Two years earlier, Rodriguez had carried the Yankees through the World Series; against the Tigers, Rodriguez hits justs .111 and the Yankees lose the playoff series three games to two.
March 25, 2012
Rodriguez is hit by a pitch in a preseason game.
Levine: Ouch. Feel better.
Rodriguez: Can’t hurt me.
Levine: It hurt me watching.
May 21, 2012
The Yanks are shut out by the Royals.
Levine: My friend, I have always believed that in difficult times there r two ways to go. The easy way, which is to make excuses, be defensive, or blame others and shut it down. The better way is to take the challenge, get mad, get determined, and shut everyone up and perform to greater levels. I believe in u. I believe u will hit those levels. It has been a tough year in injuries, tough losses, underperformance, but we need a leader, that is you. Take the lead, get these guys going, put a chip on your shoulder. When u succeed it will be Yankees lore. There is nothing more powerful than that. I am here to support u. Tell us what u need.
Rodriguez: You are 100% correct. This is no time for blame or excuses. Is time for me to be a leader and rally the troops. I feel if I perform at a high level, put a chip on my shoulder and lead the way, then my mates will follow my lead. Is not how you start, but how you finish. Let’s get it going tonight. Thanks for the support and stay in touch.
May 23, 2012
Rodriguez homers twice against the Royals in an 8-3 Yankees victory, Rodriguez’s first home runs in 52 at-bats.
Levine: Breakout game. Nice going. Chip on shoulder attitude. Get us on a roll.
July 30, 2012
Rodriguez is out with an injury, having fractured his hand five days earlier when hit by a pitch. Levine makes a reference to performance-enhancing drugs that he later refers to as a “bad joke.”
Levine: How r u feeing since u left Robby [Cano] under 200, he needs some steroids fast!
August 21, 2012
With A-Rod still out, Levine again makes a possibly comic drug reference.
Levine: Hey, what’s up with Robby. This guy must not be using the liquid. U didn’t tell me what did Chris and Steve say your ETA is. Don’t rush it unless u r right. We need you. Nova looks like he may need a breather. What do u see.
September 22, 2012
Rodriguez gets two key hits in a fourteen-inning victory that keeps the Yankees in first place. The chip on the shoulder the two have spoken about has become a nickname: Chip.
Levine: Way to go best win of year. U had walkoff mesa nerves. U stepped up do it tomorrow. Chip. Proud of u.
Rodriguez: Huge win. … Very nervous. Need to win tomorrow. Chip
Levine: That’s what leaders do.
That fall, the Yankees win their division, but Rodriguez has another terrible postseason, managing just a single hit in the championship series against Detroit, in which they are swept. In early December, Rodriguez is diagnosed with a torn labrum—a left-hip injury. Even the Yankees seem relieved. Says general manager Brian Cashman, “The struggles we saw in September and October are more likely than not related to [the injury].”
At home in Miami, Rodriguez begins “prehabbing,” building strength before the surgery, which is scheduled for January.