As Alex Rodriguez leaves the field for the final time Friday night at Yankee Stadium (assuming he doesn’t sign with another team following his release, which is possible), take a moment to realize that there will never be another Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.
There will never be another athlete as polarizing, greedy, controversial, uber talented, and someone who despite all their wrong doings, managed to turn back into a sympathetic figure quite like A-Rod.
He started his career as an 18-year-old boy wonder with the Seattle Mariners in 1994 after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 1993. During his time in Seattle, A-Rod left no doubt about how adept he was at the game of baseball, leading to the Texas Rangers giving him a then-record 10-year $252 million contract, at the time, the largest contract ever handed out to any one player in sports history.
To put A-Rod’s contract with the Rangers in perspective, the previous largest contract prior to that was the six-year $126 million deal the Timberwolves gave Kevin Garnett following the 1999 season, and get this, then Rangers owner Tom Hicks bought the team in 1998 for $250 million. That’s the craziest stat of them all. Within two years of buying the Rangers and the ballpark they play in, Hicks paid more for A-Rod than he did for the team. We’re talking about two years!
It was on that faithful December day in 2000 that A-Rod officially put a target on his back, one that he was never able to jettison and something that would shape how he would be viewed by the rest of the sports world going forward.
Although his Texas Ranger teams weren’t very competitive, A-Rod put up gaudy numbers hitting a total of 156 home runs and driving in 395 runs in three seasons. Recognizing the fact A-Rod wasn’t the savior they once thought and hoping to get out from under his contract, the Rangers traded A-Rod to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano in February of 2004.
A-Rod continued putting up remarkable statistics during his first four years in Yankee pinstripes, but those years would be marked by egregious postseason failures. From 2004-2007, the Yankees won just one postseason series, a far cry from the unprecedented run of success the franchise had experienced from 1996 until 2003, when the Yankees made the World Series six times in eight years.
His postseason numbers in 2004 were impressive, but everyone looks back on that year as the one the Yankees became the first team in MLB history to blow a 3-0 series lead, as A-Rod’s quest for his first World Series appearance would be put on hold.
It was only downhill from there, with A-Rod hitting .133 with zero RBIs in a five-game series loss to the Angels in 2005, and .071 (1-14) with zero RBIs in a four-game series loss to the Tigers in 2006, a series that infamously saw Joe Torre drop A-Rod to eighth in the order. The level of scrutiny faced by A-Rod for his stunningly bad performance in that 2006 series was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, and the New York tabloids let him hear it.
A-Rod had his best statistical season with the Yankees in 2007, smashing 54 home runs and driving in 156 runs, leading to his third career MVP and second with the Yankees. However, A-Rod came back to earth in the postseason hitting a modest .267 with one home run and one RBI as the Yankees lost to the Indians in four games.
During Game 4 of the World Series that year, A-Rod announced he would be opting out of his contract with the Yankees in order to become a free agent, with the presiding thought being he couldn’t handle the pressure of playing in New York.
His agent at the time, Scott Boras, went on ESPN’s First Take and attempted to make a defense for A-Rod’s postseason failures, blaming Mariano Rivera for not shutting the door in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.
“The brilliant Mariano Rivera, probably the only flaw he’s made in a historic career over the postseason, if he got those three outs (in the ninth inning of Game 4), Alex would have been in the World Series and he would have been held to have a great postseason,” Boras said. “When you look at his records with Seattle – and even this year (2007) – you’re talking about a player whose postseason records are really up there with many of the superstars of the game.”
Boras’ attempt to defend A-Rod was truly pathetic and then without Boras, A-Rod got the Yankees to agree to pay him $275 million over 10 years, setting another record for the largest contract ever given to one player.
The 2008 season would mark the first time since the strike shortened 1994 season there wouldn’t be any postseason baseball in the Bronx, setting the stage for an offseason the baseball world was praying they wouldn’t ever see from A-Rod.
Unlike Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire before him, A-Rod was supposed to be the guy who did it without PEDs. He was going to surpass Barry Bonds as the ironclad home run king and Bonds’ stained record wouldn’t be a black eye on baseball’s glorified past.
The steroid controversy surrounding A-Rod first came to the forefront during a 2007 interview he did with Katie Couric where A-Rod adamantly denied every using any performance enhancing substance of any kind.
After that Katie Couric interview, A-Rod appeared to clear his name. But then in February of 2009, it happened. Sports Illustrated reported that in 2003, A-Rod was one of 104 players to test positive for steroids, which led to A-Rod confessing to Peter Gammons in an exclusive interview where he blamed the pressure of the $252 million contract he signed with the Rangers as the reason why he turned to steroids so he could live up to the contract.
A-Rod claimed he only used steroids during his time in Texas, and with the weight of the world seemingly off his shoulders, returned to his MVP-caliber form, leading the Yankees back to the playoffs and then having one of the all-time great postseason performances by playing an integral role on the 2009 championship team.
The postseason failure burden was now ancient history, and the greatest player of his generation now had a championship to add to his resume. A-Rod had finally won over New York.
The next few years were relatively controversy free for A-Rod. He became the youngest player to hit 600 career home runs and things were once again looking up, until 2013 happened.
In January of 2013, A-Rod was one of several players named in connection with a Miami-based steroid clinic called Biogenesis, run by Anthony Boesch, resulting in Major League Baseball suspending him for 211 games, later reduced to 162 games following appeal.
That was it. All the good A-Rod had done after admitting to using steroids while with the Rangers was out the window and it became clear PEDs were always connected with A-Rod throughout his playing career and any claim he made about not using PEDs could not be considered credible. Reputation ruined. Forever.
As we look back now on that Katie Couric interview today, it’s remarkable listening to A-Rod’s answers given how much we now know about his infatuation with steroids.
Along with A-Rod, the second most notable player to be connected to Biogensis was the Brewers’ Ryan Bruan, who received a very modest 65-game suspension for the same violation. It was then A-Rod first turned into a sympathetic figure. How come Ryan Braun, guilty of the same exact infraction as A-Rod, received a suspension essentially 100 games shorter than A-Rod’s? There was clearly a double standard going on, with A-Rod taking the brunt of the punishment.
Major League Baseball had nothing to go on. They just seemingly were making up suspension numbers with A-Rod and Braun, leading to A-Rod suing Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association hoping to get his suspension overturned, and then he sued Yankees team doctor Chris Ahmad for medical malpractice. All of the lawsuits were eventually dropped and A-Rod eventually agreed to serve a 162-game suspension, the longest non-lifetime ban suspension in the history of the sport.
So A-Rod basically missed all of the 2013 season, didn’t play an inning in 2014, and then returned as the most hated player in sports in 2015, as he was greeted with a chorus of boos everywhere he went.
A-Rod went on to have a sensational 2015 season, hitting 33 home runs and driving in 86 runs leading the Yankees back to the playoffs. He even joined the exclusive 3,000 hit club and did so with a home run at Yankee Stadium.
Although the Yankees came up short, A-Rod’s “me against the world” season was as entertaining as they come, but a major regression would follow the next year.
A-Rod just couldn’t do it anymore in 2016, which led to A-Rod being benched, and the climactic event where A-Rod announced he would agree to be released from his contract in order to be a special advisor and instructor to the organization and mentor the young Yankees in the minors. Who would have ever thought the Yankees would want A-Rod influencing younger players after everything he went through??
During that press conference, A-Rod once again managed to become a sympathetic figure. Joe Girardi sounded like someone who would ensure A-Rod would be in the lineup everyday for his final week in the Major Leagues, a promise he failed to keep, leaving A-Rod on the bench, helpless.
And that’s where his story ends, for now. From the 18-year-old boy wonder, to the player who was going to be the PED-free home run king, to his fall from grace and back, before falling again and having to rebound for a second time, and then culminating with one last sympathetic moment before he finally says goodbye for good.
There have been many athletes who have played professional sports, but none of them have a story quite like A-Rod’s, and you can bet you’ll never see anything like him ever again. It’s been a wild ride.