In his roughly and sometimes rough 30 years of fame, Alex Rodriguez often seemed intent on appearing authentic in front of the cameras rather than actually being so. Even when he lunged for it and attempted to be candid or sincere, true authenticity eluded him, like a ground ball just out of reach.
It was transparent and unbecoming, and made him a less-popular figure than a player of his immense talent and charisma should have been. And that was before a self-inflicted scandal cost him more than a year of his career to suspension and branded him with baseball’s scarlet letters: PED.
But at age 46 and six seasons removed from his last major league game, Rodriguez, with the help of a longtime friend, is finding a new niche in baseball. Rodriguez and longtime Yankees broadcaster and New York sports radio host Michael Kay have teamed up for the “KayRod Cast.” When Rodriguez talks about it, he sounds, authentically, like he’s found himself, too.
“I think coming back after my suspension, I just had a different approach, like, ‘Hey, I have nothing to lose by letting my guard down.’ It’s been a better way of living.
“And Michael and I have a lot of things in common. We’re both New Yorkers, we both come from modest beginnings, we both love the Yankees. He’s very real, and Michael is the way I always wished I could be. I wanted to be more honest and more free. He is the exact same way all the time, all heart, off camera or on camera.”
The “KayRod Cast” airs on ESPN2 as an alternative to the conventional “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast on ESPN, much in the spirit of the network’s other freewheeling alternate broadcasts through the years, including the “College Football Megacast,” the analytically driven “StatCast,” the “NBA MarvelCast,” and of course the popular “ManningCast” featuring Peyton and Eli Manning that airs during NFL season concurrent with “Monday Night Football.” The “KayRod Cast” is taking a slightly lesser percentage of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” audience than the “ManningCast” took from “MNF,” which qualifies as a success.
The sixth of the eight “KayRod Casts” this season happens Sunday night when the Red Sox conclude their four-game series with the Yankees. The debut “KayRod Cast” was also a Red Sox-Yankees game, on April 10. Rodriguez, who has two teenage daughters and myriad business interests, including part ownership of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, was in favor of the abbreviated schedule.
Rodriguez and Kay banter during the game from a set at ESPN’s Seaport District studios in New York, talk strategy, and converse with assorted guests. (This week guests will include Roger Clemens and Tony Massarotti.) The format suits Rodriguez more than a conventional color analyst role (which he held on “Sunday Night Baseball” from 2018-21) or a studio gig (where he teams up with David Ortiz, among others, on Fox Sports). There’s room to talk about topics and strategy in depth, and Rodriguez is at ease with Kay, who has no qualms about needling Rodriguez.
“When this was discussed at the beginning, Alex and I spoke about it, and I said, ‘Alex, I’ve got to be able to make fun of you like we do off the air to each other. We’ve got to be able to say anything,’ " said Kay. “And he said, ‘Whatever you want.’ And I knew it was going to be good when on the first show I made a crack about an ex-girlfriend of Alex getting engaged. And he was fine with it. It actually went kind of viral, it was on ‘Entertainment Tonight.’
“I think this is the perfect venue for him, because you really see him. This is Alex by his locker talking baseball, being a baseball nerd. Alex is so different from the public perception of him, which I think is job 1, 2, and 3 for me, which is to bring out that guy that is funny and self-deprecating. I don’t think you see that in a lot of the things that Alex has done. It’s kind of that very buttoned-up sort of Alex. And this is as close to the real guy as you’ll see, where you can make fun of some of the foibles that he’s had. "
Said Rodriguez: “Our chemistry has been very important, and there’s nowhere we couldn’t go with the conversation. Michael isn’t going to let me get away with anything. He’s going to go back and question me. And that’s exactly what the fans at home are doing.
“Early in my career I would have incredible conversations with reporters I really respected. I just felt more comfortable doing it one on one. For whatever reason, when the bright lights came on, I always got a little nervous, and I always tried to say the things I thought people wanted to hear. That never landed well, because it really wasn’t me.”
Even now, Rodriguez isn’t always subtle. During a Zoom conversation Friday, he chatted from a fancy office with two massive photos of his daughters as the backdrop. He’s well aware that one of the most enjoyable moments of the “KayRod Cast” occurred when his daughters came on and heckled him mercilessly but lovingly, as teenage daughters are prone to do.
“The greatest reaction we’ve gotten was when Alex had his two daughters on with him at the end of a show,” said Kay. “People loved it. They want to see this side of people. Too many people in sports put up this veneer, and you don’t ever get to know them. Just having his two daughters there ragging on him while we were on live TV, that’s relatable and real.”
It’s the most authentic Rodriguez has ever seemed — the flustered dad. “And you know what?” he said. “Having two daughters and how much they rag on me, it’s made me a more confident person to just let it rip. Maybe some people won’t like me, but they’re not going to change their minds, so you might as well be yourself.”