Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez is loved by many adoring fans, and hated by just about the same number. While the 12-time All-Star has shattered home-run records and put up decades of hall-of-fame caliber playing, he has long been dogged by accusations of steroid use and less-than-honest play throughout a career that took him from the Seattle Mariners to the Texas Rangers, and finally to the New York Yankees. But all controversy aside, the three-time AL MVP, called "A-Rod" by his fans, will be remembered as one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game with a decade-spanning career that found him in some of the most important games of the past 20 years, and breaking records previously held by names like Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth.
Alexander Emanuel Rodriguez was born on July 27th, 1975, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. His father, Victor Rodriguez, was a former professional catcher in his native Dominican Republic, and helped instill in young Alex, the youngest of three children, a love and passion for the game he would one day use to make his name. Alex attended high school in Miami, FL, where he became a star shortstop for Westminster Christian High School, a small, private school now known for churning out a series of Major League Baseball personalities such as J.P. Arencibia and Doug Mientkiewicz. He batted an eyebrow-raising .419 in only 100 games at Westminster, and was quickly making names with scouts after being selected as the USA Baseball Junior Player of the Year in 1993. Signing a letter of intent for the University of Miami that year, Rodriguez was planning to attend both as a star shortstop and quarterback for the school's football team, but after being drafted with the number one overall pick in the 1993 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, and being offered a $1.3 million contract with the opportunity to play with one of baseball's youngest, talent-filled teams, Rodriguez left his backpack at home and joined the Major Leagues as one of the top prospects of the '90s.
Rodriguez lasted about a year-and-a-half in the minor leagues, shuttling his way through low-A ball, double A, and quickly starting as a regular shortstop for Seattle's AAA franchise all within his first year of professional baseball. In July of that same year, he was called up to join the Mariners in Boston, where he made his debut as one of the youngest players in modern baseball history, and the youngest for the Seattle franchise. His rookie 1994 season was cut short by the August 1994 Major League Baseball strike, which nuked not only the rest of the 1994 season, but the postseason and World Series. Still, he opened the following season splitting time back between the Mariners and the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle's AAA franchise, joining the Mariners permanently in August of 1995 and cementing his spot as one of the premier infielders of the decade for a young team filled with stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez. In the final weeks of the 1995 season, Rodriguez helped lift his team to an all-time classic late-season comeback spearheaded by the famous double hit by Edgar Martinez in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
A-Rod's 1996 season is widely considered as his breakout year, finding the player hitting 36 home runs and leading the American League with a .358 batting average. Although finishing second in AL MVP voting that year, Rodriguez continued to post mammoth numbers and All Star appearances. And while some of his numbers dropped, A-Rod began a long streak of 40+ home run seasons, cementing himself as the Mariner's franchise player in 2000 after Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. both left for the Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds, respectively. The following season found Rodriguez in the wide-open waters of free agency, eventually signing the largest contract in American professional sports history: a 10-year $252 million contract with the cellar-dwelling division rival of the Seattle Mariners, the Texas Rangers. Seattle fans took the move as betrayal, and Rodriguez was met with a hailing of Monopoly money from the sold-out Safeco Field crowd upon his return to Seattle in 2001.
Conflict or not, Rodriguez found the next few seasons in Arlington his best ever, slugging an average of .622 and putting up 52 home runs in 2001, and a whopping 57 in 2002. He led his club in nearly every offensive statistic during the 2001-2002 seasons, both exemplifying his behemoth presence with a bat, and unfortunately, his team's meager showing for yet more cellar-dwelling seasons, watching his former Mariners slug it out with the then-rising Oakland A's. He finally won his first American League MVP award in 2003 despite finishing the season on a last place team. But the honeymoon was over: Rodriguez was publicly questioning his decision to sign with a team he never fully wanted to play for in the first place, a move which he claimed was instigated by his agent Scott Boras. He turned his sights to the city of his birth, and while he later claimed he wished he could have signed with the Mets, he was quickly eyeballed by the New York Yankees after a trade with the Boston Red Sox was vetoed by the MLBPA.
Just before the 2004 MLB season, A-Rod was traded to the New York Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later, as well as splitting nearly half of the money remaining on his record-setting contract. His arrival in the Bronx was met with excitement, although he was forced to slide down to third base to accommodate Yankees All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter, setting up one of the most feared left-sides of the infield in all of professional baseball. Once again in the playoffs, Rodriguez and his Yankees found themselves up against a suddenly hot Boston Red Sox team, which was down 3-0 in the American League Championship series, a mark no team had ever come back from in a best of seven series in all of baseball history. It would be yet another timeless postseason moment for Rodriguez, albeit on the less-than-exciting end. In a controversial play in Game 6, Rodriguez appeared to bat the ball out of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo's glove as he ran to tag him after a swinging bunt in the infield, reaching second and sending Jeter all the way home. The umpires eventually called interference, however, nullifying the run and calling Rodriguez out in an infamous play that went down in MLB postseason history, and for many, exemplifed the kind of player A-Rod was known to be: a hometown hero, or one of the Bad Guys.
The next few seasons saw Rodriguez earn even more All-Star appearances, two additional MVP awards (2005 and 2007), and shatter more home run records. But at the end of the 2007 season, A-Rod's original contract bought by the Yankees was at an end. And despite unfounded rumors which included an apparent player/owner contract fiasco from the Chicago Cubs, Rodriguez announced through his agent Scott Boras that he would not resign with the Yankees, despite his previously announced intent to do just that. Critics were unfounded at the content and timing of the announcement, which took place during the eight inning of Game 4 of the World Series. But after teammate Mariano Rivera convinced A-Rod to talk to Yankees ownership at the behest of Boras, a new contract was signed, ensuring the All-Star shortstop would remain in Yankee pinstripes through 2017.
But then the wheels fell off. In February of 2009, Sports Illustrated broke a story leading to the biggest scandal in Major League Baseball since 1919: the BALCO investigation into rampant steroid use throughout major and minor-league baseball. Rodriguez was said to have tested positive for testosterone and Primobolan, two anabolic steroids now banned by Major League Baseball. Due to a powerful players union, Rodriguez escaped any punishment for past drug test failure, but publicly announced he used steroids during his record breaking 2001-2003 seasons following injury, and stopped immediately afterward. It did little to phase his critics, however, and his name has been repeatedly connected with the mid-2000s steroid scandals prevalent throughout all of Major League Baseball. In 2010, the New York Times announced that Rodriguez received medical work from Anthony Galea, a Canadian doctor under investigation for distributing human growth hormone to athletes, another illegal substance. He was accused of taking place in illegal, underground poker games in 2011, and as late as June of 2013, Rodriguez's name has appeared on the sell-list of Biogenesis, a Miami health clinic accused of selling illegal PED's to many Major League players. Rodriguez is one of 20 players rumored to be targeted by MLB for suspension, and for A-Rod, the rumored 100-game suspension seemed to be enough to end a career.
Following an injury-laden 2011 season which saw him miss the All-Star game, Rodriguez struggled heavily throughout the 2012 regular and post-seasons, even while tying Lou Gehrig for the most grand slams in MLB history. After taking a pitch off the hand from Seattle Mariners' ace Félix Hernández, A-Rod was once again on the disabled list, and returned to a disappointing second half of the season. After hitting .125 in the 2012 Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, he was lifted for late game at bats by Yankees teammate Raul Ibañez, who ironically hit home runs both times to tie, and then win the game.
Finally, in the 2012 offseason, it was announced that Rodriguez would undergo anthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, which Yankees GM Brian Cashman had diagnosed as the cause of his postseason struggles the previous year. But with the injury, and the possibility of a long suspension following his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal, some wondered if Major League Baseball had seen the last of the once consummate All-American shortstop who was considered a first-ballot Hall of Famer.