While Alex Rodriguez will go down as one of the most statistically impressive players in baseball history, he will also be remembered as one of its most controversial. There is his prodigious talent and career longevity, and there is his steroid use, occasional prickliness, and other on-field controversies that cloud his significant achievements.
With Rodriguez set to retire and join the Yankees organization as a club advisor, it’s worth a look back at the good and the bad of his 22-year career.
1994: Major League debut
Rodriguez made his first appearance at just 18 years, 11 months and 11 days old, starting at shortstop for the Mariners on July 8, 1994, in Boston. He was the youngest position player in Mariners history, the youngest player in MLB and the first 18-year-old major leaguer in a decade. His first season was shortened by a lockout, and he played just sporadically the next year before his star took off for good in 1996.
Below is his first home run, from 1995.
1998: 40–40 club
After winning a batting title with his .358 average in '96 and belting 36 home runs in '96 and making two straight All-Star teams, Rodriguez put together a rare 40-homer, 40-steal campaign in his age-22 season. He hit 42 balls out and swiped 46 bags, leading the league with 213 hits. He became just the third member of the 40–40 club at the time, joining Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds.
2000: $252 million man
Rodriguez hit free agency after the 2000 season and signed with the Texas Rangers for a whopping 10 years and $252 million ahead of the 2001 season. At the time, it was the largest contract in sports history, breaking the record deal Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett signed in 1997 (six years, $126 million). He joined the last-place Rangers for a dizzying sum that sparked discussion about payroll disparity, huge spending and the future of baseball’s business end.
2004: Traded to Yankees, nearly traded to Red Sox
A-Rod was dominant as a Ranger, hitting 52 and 57 home runs in 2001 and 2002 winning his first MVP award in 2003. He missed just one game in those three seasons. But Texas had designs on moving his gigantic salary, and initially agreed to a deal with Boston.
The trade was thisclose to going down, with Rodriguez the consensus best player in baseball and the Red Sox looking to rebound from a seven-game defeat in the 2003 ALCS at the hands of the Yankees. The deal involved the Chicago White Sox as a third team and would have sent Manny Ramirez and a young Jon Lester to the Rangers and Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox, who would send Magglio Ordoñez back to Boston.
None of that happened, though, because the players’ union would not ratify a re-worked contract for Rodriguez—he would have had to willingly accept a pay cut as part of the trade. The deal died. And on February 15, 2004, he was instead flipped to the rival Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and infielder Joaquin Arias, with the Rangers paying a large chunk of the money left on A-Rod’s contract. In New York, the Gold Glove winner moved over to third base, with franchise icon Derek Jeter already entrenched at shortstop.
2004: Brawling in Boston
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry enjoyed some heated years in the 2000s, and 2004 was chief among them. Both clubs boasted star-studded rosters. The Red Sox would go on to mount a historic comeback against the Yankees in that year’s ALCS on their way to their first World Series title since 1918.
On July 24 of that season, it built to a boil after Bronson Arroyo plunked Rodriguez. A-Rod had some words for the pitcher, and Red Sox catcher and captain Varitek got in the mix. The benches cleared. It got bad.
2004: The glove slap
Later that season, in a pivotal ALCS Game 6, Rodriguez memorably slapped the ball out of Arroyo’s hand running down the first base line while the pitcher attempted to apply a tag. Derek Jeter would score all the way from first on the play, Rodriguez advancing to second, before the umpires reversed the ruling and called Rodriguez out for interference, sending Jeter back. The Yankees trailed 4–2 at the time, and went on to lose Game 7, blowing a 3–0 series lead against their AL East rivals.
2007: Contract controversy
Built into Rodriguez’s original 10-year deal was an opt-out clause, which he exercised after the 2007 season. Rodriguez said during that year he hoped to be a Yankee for the rest of his career, but decided with agent Scott Boras to test free agency anyway. He drew plenty of scrutiny for the handling of the situation, making an announcement in the middle of the World Series (which the Red Sox, of course, were a handful of outs from winning), and angering MLB brass in the process. Boras apologized for the timing, but the PR damage was done.
Rodriguez would eventually meet with Yankees ownership and agree to another 10-year deal worth $275 million and laden with lucrative incentives for breaking home run milestones as his career numbers continued to approach the game’s elite.
2009: Admits to steroid use
On February 7, 2009, Sports Illustrated first reported that Rodriguez had tested positive for testosterone and anabolic steroids all the way back in 2003, the year he won his first MVP award with the Rangers. This was before Major League Baseball had a mandatory drug testing program and before punishments had been established for PED users.
Two days after the report, Rodriguez admitted he had indeed used steroids from 2001–2003 in an interview with ESPN, claiming he had not used them since. The admission cast a shadow over his career numbers and helped ignite stricter policies as MLB grappled with an era-defining controversy.
2009: World Series run
Rodriguez missed that year’s World Baseball Classic and the first month of the MLB season with hip injuries, but returned with a bang, hitting a three-run home run on the first pitch he saw that year. He would go on to post a 12th straight 30 home run, 100 RBI season, the longest such streak in history, after hitting two home runs and driving in seven in the last game of the season.
That all led up to an impressive postseason. Rodriguez had been a poor October performer over the course of his career, entering 2009 a lifetime 0 for 29 with runners in scoring position in the playoffs. This time, he galvanized the Yankees to a World Series title, winning the BWAA’s postseason MVP award and hitting several game-tying home runs. In 15 playoff games, he hit .365 with a .500 on-base percentage, hitting six homers and driving in 18 runs.
2014: Full-season suspension
While he remained a key contributor for the Yankees, Rodriguez battled injuries over the next few seasons that hampered his availability and production. And while recovering from arthroscopic hip surgery in 2013, he became a central figure in the Biogenesis scandal that tied several major leaguers to a clinic that distributed human growth hormone and other PEDs.
Rodriguez eventually got healthy enough to return to the team on August 5, 2013, and on the same day, Major League Baseball announced he would be suspended from that day through the end of the 2014 season, the longest punishment in major league history. He appealed and was able to play the rest of 2013, but his penalty was upheld from there, and he was not allowed to play at all in 2014.
He put together a surprisingly effective 2015 campaign, playing in 151 games and hitting 33 home runs. But he was a shell of himself in 2016, relegated to spot playing time and eventually opting to retire in an unceremonious ending to a lengthy, tumultuous career.
- Jeremy Woo