A Positive Image
Starts With Media Training
By: Jared Diamond
TAMPA, Fla.-In just about every aspect of life, Alex Rodriguez is far removed from the plights of the average 40-year-old man. For starters, he's in prime physical condition, without the slightest hint of a middle-age paunch. He can hit a baseball 450 feet, excelling in a sport otherwise dominated by players in their 20s. And then there's his $20 million salary. But for everything that sets Rodriguez apart, there's one thing he has very much in common with the rest of his age group: He's still trying to figure out how to use Twitter.
Though Rodriguez sent out his first tweet on May 31, 2013, his output picked up dramatically last October, when he began working as an analyst for Fox during the playoffs. Since then, Rodriguez's unfiltered musings on baseball, business and the joys of fatherhood have turned him into perhaps the most improbable social-media darling on the Internet.
For that, Rodriguez insists, he has received plenty of help. He described his 11-year-old daughter Natasha as "my tutor" and "my biggest critic," filling the all-important job of preteen quality control. He also has come to an agreement with some of his younger, more tech-savvy teammates. "They help me with social media, and I help them with baseball," Rodriguez said. "Good trade."
In particular, Rodriguez cited first baseman Greg Bird, a heralded prospect currently recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, as his clubhouse Twitter guru. Presented with this information recently, Bird, who boasts a small but loyal following of about 11,600, acknowledged his advisory role.
The way Bird describes the situation, it isn't unusual for Rodriguez to solicit Bird's millennial wisdom before tweeting, often asking for guidance by pleading ignorance and saying: "I'm old! I don't get this!"
"I'm a little bit younger than he is," said Bird, aged 23. "I might offer a piece of advice or two. He'll come to me and ask for my thoughts sometimes, and I give him what I think."
So what does Bird tell him? "Try to be more of yourself," he said. "I always just try not to be generic. People know him as a baseball player. They want to see him as something else, a person, a father."
Rodriguez seems to have taken those words to heart. This time last spring, Rodriguez was nothing short of an outcast, attempting to re-enter the game following a yearlong suspension that threatened to shorten his career and which damaged his reputation. He took major strides toward repairing his image during the season, a product of his 33-home run performance on the field and his irreproachable conduct off it.
The rehabilitation project carried into cyberspace this winter, with Rodriguez frequently updating his more than 176,000 Twitter followers on his family life and daily activities.
Rodriguez's posts typically consist of motivational messages from his workout sessions, dispatches from his downtime and heartwarming love notes to his two young daughters. Last month, he tweeted a picture of himself wrapping his daughters in a bear hug and wrote, "Toughest part about spring training. Every year. #Family #MyGirls." That one earned more than 2,000 "likes."
All of Rodriguez's tweets include a photo-often snapped by a photographer of unknown provenance-showing A-Rod being A-Rod.
"It was really nice to have a firsthand interaction with the fans of baseball and fans of mine without any broker, just direct," Rodriguez said. "It's fun."
Here's the tricky part: Alex Rodriguez doesn't exactly lead a normal life.
One of his most viral tweets featured a photograph of him in a suit, sitting behind a desk at a computer in an office, with the caption, "Just another day at ARod Corp - signing baseballs for fans and managing my inbox #OfficeLife." (Exactly what "ARod Corp" does remains a mystery, though Rodriguez did tweet an image of two polo shirts brandishing the company's logo.)
Coupled with Rodriguez's checkered past, these enigmatic missives have caused some skepticism. Responses to his tweets-which Rodriguez said he never checks-often wonder, for instance, whether a public-relations firm is orchestrating his tweets. And who is taking all those pictures, anyway?
Rodriguez said that while friends will sometimes take the photos, the ideas for his tweets are his alone-a claim that Bird corroborated, saying, "He's been doing it all on his own." Ron Berkowitz, Rodriguez's publicist, said that Rodriguez wasn't told to start tweeting more, nor are his tweets vetted beforehand. "When you're doing social media, the most important thing is you really have to do it genuinely, and it has to be you," Berkowitz said. "There are thousands of celebrities where you can read their social media, and you know it's someone doing it for them."
To that end, media professionals have given Rodriguez's Twitter account mostly positive reviews. Kevin Long, the CEO of MVP Sports Media Training, said that while "it's pretty obvious that there's a plan in motion," Rodriguez ultimately uses the platform effectively for somebody in his position. "It's probably completely about rehab [for his image]," Long said. "Does that make it disingenuous? I don't think so. If he didn't want to do it, he wouldn't."
Long praised Rodriguez for keeping his tweets focused on workouts "because it shows your fans that you're working hard and you're dedicated" and on his life outside of baseball, because it "makes him feel a lot more human."
Meanwhile, Rodriguez has wisely stayed away from offering opinions or going off-script, like he did while injured in 2013, when he tweeted prematurely that he had been cleared to play in rehab games. That tweet prompted general manager Brian Cashman to tell an ESPN reporter that "Alex should just shut the [expletive] up."
Rodriguez has cleaned up his act since then. That said, Long conceded that there's still room for him to improve. He advised that Rodriguez could still afford to tweet more about his daily interactions, perhaps posting pictures with people he meets at the grocery store or at a restaurant.
"Really becoming a man of the people," Long said. "Putting that stuff out there shows a really human, humble side of things that makes people feel like, 'He could be me.'"