Once long ago, in the early 90’s to be exact, a young kid was quickly rising to superstardom. Signed to the Seattle Mariners as the first overall draft pick in Major League Baseball in 1993, he moved through Seattle’s farm system in the minors with rapid speed. In 1994, he made the major league team at the age of 19. This nascent superstar’s name was Alex Rodriguez, and he would go on to dominate the baseball world for the next two decades – but not always in the way he would have wanted. Aside from his unquestionable Hall of Fame numbers, Alex Rodriguez had a history of scandals and personal failings that made just as much news and built just as much of a legacy. In a way, he was the ultimate in charisma – a deep contradiction who unquestionably held attention and fascination – but unfortunately for him, the attention was riveted just as much by the bad things as the good.
The Early Years
Alex Rodriguez started off in Major League Baseball with a feverish hot streak. In 1996, his first full year in the majors at the age of 21, he came only three points behind Juan Gonzalez in the American League’s MVP voting, an award that many believe he should have won to this day.
At a time when Ken Griffey Junior, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer with the highest voting percentage ever was in his prime, Alex Rodriguez shined just as brightly on the same Seattle Mariners team. He consistently put up great numbers in all major offensive categories in baseball.
With his star power firmly established throughout the 90’s, even in the face of other superstars like Griffey, Alex Rodriguez hit the lucrative free agent market after the 2000 season. It was here that the whispers of temptation truly began to weave their way through his ears and into his mind. In a contract expertly negotiated by the notorious high-roller sports agent Scott Boras, Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year $252 million contract with the ailing Texas Rangers prior to the 2001 season.
Any contract that big (and it was the biggest in history at the time) could easily get to a player’s head. That kind of money, and the praise that comes with it, can turn even the calmest and most graceful of men into arrogant and entitled attention whores (of the male variety). There’s also the pressure. Any man getting paid $25 million a year based on his purported sporting abilities will obviously feel an insatiable need to live up to them – or embarrass himself in the extreme.
Now the temptation, the fall to the Dark Side, if you will, consummated itself in the mind of this still young athlete. According to Alex Rodriguez (if we can believe him), it was here, when starting with the Texas Rangers, that he first began his usage of performance enhancing drugs.
King of the Mountain
Alex Rodriguez truly came into his prime during this time in his career (after he signed the mega contract with the Rangers). In 2001, while Barry Bonds was riveting all attention by breaking the single-season home run record, Alex Rodriguez was quietly rocketing up the baseball ranks, leading the American League in home runs that year.
Throughout Alex Rodriguez’s career in Texas, it was a case of a single star outshining the team. He hit a grand total of 109 home runs over the course of 2001 and 2002, and he finished second in the MVP voting that year also, winning his first such award in 2003. It was then that he was traded to the New York Yankees, a team that could more easily afford his huge salary.
His first two seasons with the Yankees were par for the norm by this time, and he won his second MVP award in 2005. He would follow again with his third MVP award during his stellar 2007 season (during which he became the youngest player in history to reach the 500 home run mark).
It was during the mid-2000’s that Alex Rodriguez became, unquestionably, the best baseball player on the planet. The years 2003-2008 were simply phenomenal for him. riding high, he was the king of the sport. There was however, a major blemish on his career – his seeming inability to perform during the postseason, as he had repeatedly put up very unimpressive numbers in those most crucial of games. This earned him much jeering, and it served as an easy target for his numerous critics and detractors to latch onto. This was itself a contradiction that drew attention and served to make A-Rod more charismatic – how could someone so good choke so much, so often, during the postseason? Even during his MVP seasons, A-Rod seemed unable to contribute after the regular baseball season ended.
Nevertheless, Alex Rodriguez was so good, he was in such high demand, that he felt confident enough to do what has become, aside from the use of PEDs, the most controversial thing of his career. During the 2007 World Series, Alex Rodriguez decided to opt out of the monster $252 million contract he’d signed prior to 2001. Dominating space, the opt out was announced by his agent Scott Boras exactly as the Boston Red Sox looked set to triumph over the Colorado Rockies.
If this was an attempt at persuasion, a way to leverage his best-in-the-world skills to get an even better contract, the attempt backfired in numerous ways. The Yankees were already hostile to the idea of his opting out, and Alex Rodriguez stated on his website that he wanted to finish his baseball career in New York. In addition, the opt out alienated a lot of people in Major League Baseball, fans and officials alike, because of its timing, which was interpreted as an attempt to divert attention away from the World Series and toward himself. In other words, Alex Rodriguez was disdained as an attention whore by the baseball world at the time. Alex Rodriguez claimed that he did not want to announce his opt out during the World Series, but he bears the ultimate responsibility for how it was handled, and he pretty clearly thought that his skills were so sublime that he’d be in hot demand by everybody and could drive the news. In a way, it was a Trump-like move that preceded the Trump Train by nearly a decade.
Eventually, through the good graces of the immortal Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez bypassed his agent and personally made amends with the Yankees, displaying for the first time a skill he was to become quite good at. From there, another monster deal was negotiated – a 10-year, $275 million contract that fell short of the purported $300 million mega deal that Scott Boras was aiming for. Nevertheless, it allowed Alex Rodriguez to save face.
And yet, the opt out controversy was merely the first in the long line of troubles soon to face Alex Rodriguez. Soon, both his professional and personal lives would come undone. He had had his glory. Now pride came before the fall, and the king would be toppled from his throne.
A-Rod Unstitched, A-Rod Victorious
2008 was another good season for Alex Rodriguez, but it was here that his personal life began to come undone. A-Rod was spotted with what appeared to be numerous women of the stripper and escort variety, and the behavior reportedly stretched back years. It was also reported that he was having marital problems as well.
Given his status as “best in the world,” in addition to his controversial nature (especially in the case of his opt out controversy), these vulnerabilities were quickly seized on by the media, who A-Rod had always had an adversarial relationship with. Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez were divorced that year.
And yet, these personal problems were only the tip of the iceberg, the first storm of many. For Alex Rodriguez, a much bigger storm would soon come, and it would threaten to not only engulf his career, but his kleos, his claim to glory, his legacy.
In early 2009, while A-Rod was recovering from a hip injury (which would plague him on and off for the remainder of his career), it was revealed in the media that he had been taking performance enhancing drugs in the early 2000s. Throughout 2003, hundreds of players submitted to anonymous testing to see how widespread steroid use really was in Major League Baseball. Enough players tested positive for MLB to institute a rigorous mandatory testing program the next season. A-Rod was only one of those players that failed. While steroid use was surprisingly not banned in Major League Baseball prior to 2004, the scandal struck A-Rod to the core. The fact that the tests were supposed to be completely and legally anonymous was of course, no hurdle to the media’s blowtorch. He’d previously gone on record on 60 Minutes saying that he had never taken any performance enhancing drugs in his career. His behavior during that interview seemed to many to be deceptive, and now that deception was confirmed.
In what must have been a humiliating capitulation, in February 2009, Alex Rodriguez was forced to prostrate himself before the media, admitting to his use of PEDs during his stint with the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003. Taking responsibility for his mistakes, he told the story of how his cousin would secure for him a substance referred to as “bollee” in the Dominican Republic. This was obviously a slang reference to the drug Primobolan.
For the player who was widely assumed to be on track to 800 home runs, and therefore in position to take back the home run crown from the tainted Barry Bonds, this was a devastating blow, both to his own legacy and to baseball itself. This was a let down the fans would not soon forget or forgive. How could they forgive someone who was supposed to bring integrity back to the most cherished record in baseball who was now himself tainted? How could they care that yet another cheating player would be on track to possess the record once held by that paragon of class, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, and before that, the all-time American icon Babe Ruth? One corrupt king doesn’t trade well with another. Given the already-sour relations between Alex Rodriguez and the baseball world at large, this was seemingly unforgivable, even if he did own up to his mistakes. That didn’t erase the tension and the letdown felt by so many. The home run chase was no longer exciting. The historic numbers he continued to put up for contention in the “greatest of all time” category were now perceived as worthless.
Although Alex Rodriguez would go on to win his much-coveted World Series championship after a 2009 postseason in which he performed astronomically – answering in a spectacular way those critics who said he couldn’t perform in big playoff situations, there was still a lingering incompleteness to it. It still stuck in the backs of minds of fans around the world that A-Rod just wasn’t worthy of the accolades he now received, no matter how great his performance was. The confirmation bias trap was set. A-Rod had a prickly personality, he used PEDs, and added to his enormous salary, he simply removed himself from the prospect of being relatable. People couldn’t see themselves in him – or at least not the version of themselves that they wanted to see. Alex Rodriguez was fabulously wealthy and talented, but there were just too many asterisks and flaws holding him back from being aspirational, at least compared to contemporaries like Derek Jeter.
And yet, can we look back at Alex Rodriguez in the 2009 season and not remark on what a comeback it was? He came back from injury to hit a home run on the first pitch he saw. He came back from scorn to win great praise from even his fiercest critics in that magical 2009 postseason for the Yankees. The 2009 season was a test for Alex Rodriguez, and he consistently showed the best sides of his deeply contradictory character during that microcosm of his career. He had his faults put on highest display, but he also shared throughout that season his one overriding character trait that stayed with him from the beginning – his deep love for the game of baseball.
2010 & Beyond – Scandals & Redemption
Alex Rodriguez continued to produce throughout the 2010s, though not at the great pace he set for himself in the years past (2015 was a great year for him, however). He was, of course, getting older, and injuries held him back. His home run pace dropped and the prospect of him breaking the home run record, much less reaching 800, appeared dimmer and dimmer. Yet, the down-slope for Alex Rodriguez would not be a gentle down-slope. His bombastic antics continued. He was once infamously caught flirting with two women in the stands during the 2012 American League Championship Series as the Yankees’ hope of success against the Detroit Tigers increasingly looked bleak.The flirting did eventually stop…but only when Derek Jeter injured his ankle.
Then came the scandal which would shake A-Rod at his most vulnerable point. The Biogenesis Scandal seemed to implicate Alex Rodriguez as a repeat PED user despite his 2009 claims that he’d been clean since joining the Yankees in 2004. MLB decided to suspend Alex Rodriguez for the remainder of the 2013 season and through all of the 2014 season, though because he had never previously failed a drug test, A-Rod was allowed an appeal which soaked up the rest of 2013, allowing him to play. The particularly harsh suspension, Commissioner Bud Selig said, came as a result of the persistence of Rodriguez in obstructing Major League Baseball in its investigation of the scandal.
So now, Alex Rodriguez was not only a liar and repeat PED user, he also obstructed justice, in a way. His prickly personality also showed itself during the affair once more. For many around Major League Baseball, from fans to team owners, there seemed absolutely no reasons left to even consider liking A-Rod. He’d given people too many reasons to hate him.
And yet, he likely realized this. He knew that once more, he had to demonstrate how much he loved the game of baseball, and the only way he could do so was by making amends for his mistakes. The first thing he did was swallow his pride and not fight his suspension from Major League Baseball in 2014, which must have been very hard for him. Afterward, with his numbers slumping, a sure sign that the end of his career was in sight, Alex Rodriguez did his best to make amends with the Yankees, whose relationship with him was reportedly not good.
That healing between the Yankees and A-Rod culminated last week, when Alex Rodriguez gave what may well have been his most heartfelt and sincere address to baseball and its fans:
Say what you wish about him, but unless he’s a highly trained actor, those are the words of a man with a deep love for what he’s dedicated his life to, is sorrowful for his own mistakes and the harm he’s caused baseball, and is looking forward to giving back to the younger generation – including warning them against making the same mistakes he made.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
In 2009, Alex Rodriguez had reached his personal aristeia – his great moment of glory, but because of events earlier that year, it seemed that his star shined less brightly than it could have.
This was in fact a phenomenon that would plague him through his entire career. There were, and always will be, the unanswered questions. Would he be as great as he seemed if not for the PEDs? How bright would his star truly shine? These questions will always muddy his legacy. Will others be hearing about him hundreds of years from now in the way that he would want?
The answer to that last question may come in large part in regard to what Alex Rodriguez does next. He’s not leaving baseball. It’s too much a part of him. He did color commentary during 2015’s postseason which was highly praised:
He will very much relish the opportunity to mold the next generation of talent for the Yankees, and there’s also talk about him being the owner of a team one day. All of these things provide ample opportunity to create more of the kind of legacy and glory that Alex Rodriguez would want. And yet, none of these things are likely to overshadow his playing career, as human attention is naturally drawn to something more active in contrast with something more passive. Only rarely does a post-playing career overshadow an active playing career and this is usually because the post-playing career is an order of magnitude more impressive, such as the case with Joe Torre. This is unlikely with Alex Rodriguez. He will always be seen as a contradiction. He did achieve a legacy, but his kleos, “what others hear about him” will always be partly tainted.
This contradiction came because he failed to abide by that sage advice for those at the top of the world:
The greater the merit and virtue of the prince, the harder the envious will try to dim his brilliance. Therefore some faults will be attributed to him which he is entirely innocent. Therefore a sovereign cannot live too wisely or too innocently. It is not enough to provide for general affairs, but you must regulate your own morals.
Whether Alex Rodriguez will abide by this advice from Louis XIV, and can create a contrast in his post-playing career that is so spectacular that even his many detractors have no choice but to acknowledge its greatness, remains to be seen. It is the challenge for him to meet in the next part of his life.
But Alex Rodriguez will always be remembered in at least one regard – as a man with a burning, passionate love for the game of baseball, which gave him everything, and which he devoted himself utterly to. Perhaps this devotion didn’t always come in the best of ways, but it certainly came in a memorable one.
Few men, especially amongst his critics, will be so remembered.
Read Stumped if you want to be remembered, and also to avoid the persuasion mistakes that Alex Rodriguez made.