The closest I ever got to Alex Rodriguez was his ex-wife, Cynthia. I talked to her a couple of times over the phone while they were still married. This was for a small story in Muscle & Fitness magazine in early 2004, to accompany (if I recall correctly) a big two-page picture of her in a yellow bikini, leaning on a hammock. The first time I called her, Alex was with the Texas Rangers. I remember she was nice. Friendly. Smart. Pretty open. And very complimentary about her husband.

She gushed about his work ethic, how he inspired her, how whenever she didn’t feel like working out or eating right, she looked at him, saw how disciplined he was with his training and diet, and pushed on. (Back then, she was traveling with Alex to most of his away games, working out in the hotel gyms and drawing motivation from her man.) She didn’t sound like she was lying or exaggerating either. All I can say is her voice sounded genuine. She sounded like she loved Alex and she sincerely was a bit in awe of him.

I suppose this is before the trouble started between them, before A-Rod started getting caught with exotic dancers and prostitutes and Madonna and at least one upscale brothel madam. And this was years before Cynthia eventually divorced him in 2008, citing emotional abandonment and extramarital affairs.

I’ll miss that A-Rod, the one before he put on a Yankees jersey. Sure, he might’ve already been using PEDs, but he seemed more pure.

The second time I called her, to clear up a couple of facts a few days later, she sounded even more excited. Because in the week or so since our last call, a lot had happened to her husband. He had been traded to the Yankees and she and Alex were moving to New York. She sounded like she believed things were about to get even better, and she sounded a bit relieved that her husband’s future had more certainty, that the questions about where he would be playing next year had been answered. Little did she know that moving to New York is when the big problems would start between the two of them, that being traded to the Yankees would ultimately be not be such a great thing for her, or him, or them.

I’ll miss that A-Rod, the one before he put on a Yankees jersey. Sure, he might’ve already been using PEDs, but he seemed more pure. As far as we knew, he was just an amazing talent who worked really, really hard, who loved his wife and inspired her to reach her own goals. Who signed every autograph, was great with the media and worked his butt off in the weight room. Who was faithful to his woman and his profession. Who was going to one day break the home run record and be a shining example of what someone could accomplish without the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs. I’ll miss the innocent A-Rod. Even if it was always just an illusion.

But I’ll also miss the wild, out-of-control, I-can-do-crazy-things-and-no-one-can-stop-me A-Rod. The one in New York who was unhinged. Who was admitting to using PEDs and vowing that he was now clean, and then using them again. The man who was addicted to making himself the best baseball player he could be no matter how many pills or injections it took, and who was addicted to the touch of new, attractive women, consequences be damned. The man who was awesome yet constantly needed people telling him he was awesome.

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 03: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees watches the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 3, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Nothing can sum up this I-know-it’s-wrong-and-I-don’t-care A-Rod better than what he did in October of 2012, during a game against the Detroit Tigers. After being removed from the game for a pinch hitter, A-Rod reportedly wrote a note on a baseball and had a ball boy deliver it to two female fans in the stands at Yankee Stadium. On the ball A-Rod had asked for one of the women’s phone numbers—a woman later identified as Australian bikini model Kyna Treacy.

Only A-Rod would have the balls to pull a stunt like this. To have the libido strong enough to override all the thoughts of “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t do this during a baseball game, when I’m supposed to be focused on the field” and “Hey, maybe thousands of people in the stadium and cameras will catch what I’m attempting and this will become really embarrassing for me and the team.”

A-Rod must have known all of that was possible but he just didn’t care. Or care enough. He was A-Rod and he needed to do this. In that moment he needed that woman’s phone number and this was the best way to do it. (And who knows, maybe this was a stunt he’d already pulled earlier in his career, when there were fewer fans and media watching his every move.)

Jesus, A-Rod. I’ll miss your hubris. And more to the point, I’ll miss your incredibly poor decision-making. It was fun to watch.

And then you think: Oh well, it was just one game, right? There are so many games in baseball, and guys get bored. They need something to pass the time. Maybe he was doing it to entertain his teammates. And he wasn’t even playing anymore. What’s the big deal? It’s not like it was a playoff game or something.

But that’s where you’re wrong. Because it WAS a playoff game. Yep, A-Rod pulled this shit in a playoff game. It was Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers. A series that the Yankees would eventually lose in embarrassing fashion, 4-0. Jesus, A-Rod. I’ll miss your hubris. And more to the point, I’ll miss your incredibly poor decision-making. It was fun to watch.

Finally, I’ll miss A-Rod’s incredible talent. I know he used a hell of a lot of PEDs in his career, but when you sweep all that aside, the fact is he was a phenomenal athlete. A 6’3”, 225-pound man who was quick and agile enough to play shortstop, fast enough to steal more than 300 bases, and strong enough to jack nearly 700 home runs. We’ll never see anybody like that again. Although I hear that kid in Baltimore, Manny Machado, might be pretty close.

CHICAGO - JUNE 23: Alex Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners runs the bases during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park on June 23, 1996 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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