Baseball All-Star Alex Rodriguez travels everywhere with his iPhone and iPad, enjoys engaging with his 2 million Instagram followers, is thrilled with his investments in Amazon, Google, Facebook and Netflix, and describes the issues facing Silicon Valley — like privacy and security — as short-term “noise” around companies and services that are “not going anywhere.”
And while he thinks there’s a lot to learn from data — or sabermetrics, the use of stats to track and analyze baseball — A-Rod also believes tech creates a “blind spot” that doesn’t factor in people’s passion and commitment. Tech shouldn’t override people and their instincts when choosing players and strategies, which is also why he’s against using automated strike zones in baseball instead of having human umpires call balls and strikes.
“I’m not a fan of it,” Rodriguez said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s a human game.”
After spending the morning with Jennifer Lopez at Stanford University to recruit for the real estate and fitness business he runs and that employs 1,000 people, Rodriguez spoke on stage at Intuit’s developer conference in San Jose, California. He described the “worst day of his life” as a Yankees third baseman — when he’d learned he’d been suspended for 162 games, the full 2014 season, after admitting to using banned substances. He now describes it as one of the most important things that ever happened to him.
“What I realized was the 162 was actually the biggest blessing. It was a blessing in disguise,” Rodriguez said. “I needed the entire season, a sabbatical, to get my life in order, to press the pause button and rethink things.”
Rodriquez says apologizing and talking through his issues with friends, family, fans, his teammates and Yankees management helped him transform what could have been a career-ending moment into a turning point. That’s led him to become a successful investor, entrepreneur, ESPN and Fox Sports commentator, parent and special adviser to the Yankees.
Here are edited excerpts from his stage talk and from a backstage interview.
On getting the call about his suspension: I was sweating, super nervous… I pick up the phone and it’s my former teammate Tony Clark, who’s also the head of our players’ union. We talk for five or six minutes. It feels like five or six months — and this is the call that’s going to tell me how many games is the final verdict for my suspension. While I was hoping it was 50, maybe 100 games. He told me it was 162. The entire season. The longest suspension in Major League Baseball history [for drug use.]
As he told me the news, I fell to the ground and then I started to cry and cry. The next 10 days, I didn’t leave my home. I tried to grow a beard. I was embarrassed. I was in a deep, ugly, black hole, self pity, victim, blaming everyone, except, of course, myself…
60 Minutes ran one of the worst pieces I’ve ever seen. Talk about unflattering. It was really bad. And I deserved every single word of it.
On lessons learned from his suspension. What I realized was that the 162 was actually the biggest blessing. It was a blessing in disguise. I needed the entire season, a sabbatical, to get my life in order, to press the pause button and rethink things. Sometimes you have a house and you paint the house and you fix the windows and you fix the roof. In my case, you needed to tear the entire house down and start again one brick at a time. I turned the lens inward…
I realized the only way out was surrounding myself with great people, being grateful and appreciative. I remember when I came back, I made one promise to myself: I said no matter what happens on the field, I’m going to be happy, I’m going to be grateful… to be one of 750 that gets to play Major League Baseball and then to be one of 25 that gets to wear the pinstripes, just like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Reggie Jackson and Joe DiMaggio.
I remember when they take something away, you know how sweet it is, how special it is.
On his daughters helping pick stocks. One of the things I do every time I drive my girls, and they’re now 13 and 10, we’ve been doing this for over five years, is I would always give them one business lesson. For a while they thought it was the cutest thing in the world, then they just wanted to poke Daddy’s eyes out.
But the idea was that I would give them [lessons]… a real estate lesson on why real estate is so good. Why you buy, you never sell. Why cash-producing properties are great. How debt works versus equity. And then what they really like the most [when it comes to investing in companies.]
I opened up an account for both of them and they picked a lot of winners. They picked Instagram, Facebook. They picked Google. They picked CVS. Netflix. And what was the other one they picked? Apple. All the things they use so much. And what I thought is not to overthink things. Sometimes, what is it that you like the most? What is it you believe the most? What is it, as a consumer, you’re going to spend the most on? And then they’re picking four out of five great companies.
On his stock portfolio and any concerns about tech and issues they’re facing: My biggest holdings are Amazon and Google. And also CVS, Netflix. Thinking about Apple again. Facebook, I think long term, is a great company. There’s some noise now. With some noise creates opportunity.
I think you can lose a lot of hair or turn them gray if you’re looking at them daily and trying to make decisions that are impulsive. I’d just rather not do that.
You know Instagram’s not going anywhere. It’s such a driving force for all businesses now. At a macro level, it’s all very concerning, but when you’re in it every day, I don’t see people stopping using Instagram or Amazon because there is some type of noise.
On tech, sports and sabermetrics. So Joe Namath is a guy that would be the perfect guy that sometimes sabermetrics would miss — because he wasn’t 6 feet 6 inches and he wasn’t the fastest guy. He didn’t have the greatest arm. But as a package, he was the real thing — he was a champion.
There’s a blind spot in sabermetrics and analytics that, if you don’t blend it with the human element, you missed the whole boat. I should have led with “I’m a huge believer in analytics.” But I also think that the human, the character, the grit, the warrior mentality, it’s also something that you can’t overlook. And the most important thing — when things get really hot in the kitchen, you want someone that can slow down their heartbeat and not speed it up.
You can’t forget to look up and see what’s in front of you and react. If I’m doing an interview and I’m reading what I’m telling you, we’ll lose the connection [gesturing between us]. A lot of that is going on in sports, especially baseball.
On using automatic strikes zones in baseball. I’m not a fan of it. It’s a human game. You play 200 games in 232 days. And players are tired. They’re fatigued. Not every game is the same.
What you have to understand about analytics is while you’re making decisions based on 100 years and millions of different impressions and numbers and algorithms — if I had you run a mile today, you would be pretty good. If I have you do another mile tomorrow, you’d be pretty good. But if I have you do it 20 days in a row, you’re not going to be as good. And what happens with analytics sometimes you don’t get that part of it. You judge one the same as twentieth and that’s a mistake.
But with that there’s tremendous opportunity. The opportunity is that I’m going to understand that Connie’s going to be better on Day 1, 2, and 3, than 18, 19, 20, when you’re trying to run a mile every day.
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