Alex Rodriguez: A Biography of the Yankees' Superstar Third Baseman

A.J. MartelliSenior Analyst IJanuary 22, 2009

He is known by simply one name: A-Rod.

At the young age of 33, he has already smashed 553 career home runs, owns a lifetime batting average of .306, and has knocked in 1,606 runs.

He is loved by few, hated by many, but respected by all.

Rodriguez is charismatic, gifted, and his baseball numbers speak for themselves, telling the world of his unrealistic, God-given talent. His story is truly an amazing tale, and the future hall-of-famer has had an extraordinary life thus far.

Born on July 27, 1975 in Washington Heights, NY, Rodriguez always had an affinity for baseball. He grew up a fan of the New York Mets, idolizing players such as Dale Murphy, Cal Ripken, and Keith Hernandez. But aside from his love of the game, his family migrated quite often.

It was when Rodriguez was four years old, his family moved to the Dominican Republic. Three years later, the family moved again to Miami, FL. Rodriguez’s father later fled from his family, leaving him and his mother behind.

Going by the philosophy of always following your dreams, Rodriguez used baseball as his tool, and excelled wondrously in high school as a shortstop. He also played football, and led the team as the quarterback.

Playing baseball for Miami’s Westminster Christian High School, he was a part of 100 games. If that’s not fascinating enough, he stole 90 bases over those 100 games and also hit .419 over that span. Later as a senior, Rodriguez was selected as first team prep All American, and he hit .505 with nine homers, 36 RBI, and stole 35 bases out of 35 attempts.

After high school, he was looked at by the nation as the top prospect in the country, and he was on his way to bigger and better things.

The University of Miami wanted Rodriguez to be a multi-sport athlete. He signed a letter of intent to compete in baseball and football for the college. He eventually rejected the offer and chose to accept the proposal of the Seattle Mariners, who selected him in the first round of the amateur draft in 1993.

At age 17, Rodriguez began playing down on the farm in the minors. He rapidly rose through the ranks of the minor leagues. Not long after that, his whole world would change forever.

On July 8, 1994, Rodriguez made it to the show, making his Major League Baseball debut at Boston in a game the Mariners played against the Red Sox. He was only 18 years old, and became the third 18 year-old shortstop in MLB history since 1900.

He was also the first 18 year-old player in the majors in 10 years, and Seattle’s youngest position player. The day after his debut, he got his first hit as a major leaguer, a single off Boston hurler Sergio Valdez.

The next season in 1995, Rodriguez divided his playing time between the Mariners and their AAA affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers. On June 12, he connected for his first career home run against the Kansas City Royals. Rodriguez clobbered future teammate Tom Gordon’s offering deep into the left field seats at the Kingdome.

He finally joined the team as a mainstay in August of 1995, and got his first experience playing baseball in the post season. Although he only had two at-bats, he was still the youngest player in post season history.

Rodriguez burst out onto the scene in 1996, playing full-time for Seattle and putting together an impressive season. With the Mariners, he hit 36 home runs, drove in 123 runs, and batted a mind-numbing .358. His average was the highest since Joe DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939, and it was the highest average ever from a shortstop.

He made the All-Star team for the first time in ’96, and once again was the youngest shortstop to make the All-Star squad in the history of the game. In addition to that, he led the American League in runs with 141, total bases with 379, and doubles with 54.

He also came in second in the league in the hits category with 215. Rodriguez was almost named the Most Valuable Player in the 1996 season, being edged out by Juan Gonzalez by a meager three points. Gonzalez won 290 votes to Rodriguez’s 287.

Despite losing out on the MVP award in 1996, Rodriguez won MLB Player of the Year voted by the Sporting News and the Associated Press.

He only got better as he went along and once again made a historic impact on the Mariners in 1997. On June 5, he hit for the cycle in Detroit, becoming only the second Mariner to ever hit for the cycle, and at 21 years, 10 months he was the fifth youngest player to ever do it.

In 1998, Rodriguez became a member of the 40/40 club, as he hit 42 home runs on the season, and stole 46 bases. He also became one of just three shortstops in baseball history to hit 40 home runs, and he won his second Silver Slugger award. In 1999, his success just kept on growing. Even though he missed 30 games due to injury, he still hit 42 homers, knocked in 111 runs, and hit .285.

2000 would be Rodriguez’s final go-round with the Mariners. With Mariners’ ace Randy Johnson and slugger Ken Griffey, Jr. out of the picture, Rodriguez was now alone in the spotlight. He smacked 41 homers, had 132 RBI, and hit .316. He set a career-high for base-on-balls, as he drew 100 walks in the campaign.

He once again played in the post-season, but it was not meant to be as the New York Yankees eliminated the Mariners from the tournament. As a Mariner, he hit 189 home runs, knocked in 595 runs, and averaged .286 at the dish. After his tenure in Seattle, it was time for him to move on once again.

Free agency led Rodriguez to a record-shattering 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers. He proved he earned it in his first year in Texas in ‘01, belting a league-leading 52 home runs, driving in 135 runs, and hitting .318.

He also became the first player since 1932 to hit 50 homers and have 200 hits in the same year. In addition to that, he became the sixth youngest shortstop in history to reach 50 home runs and he surpassed Ernie Banks’s record of 47 homers in 1958. In 2001, Rodriguez also proved his durability as a ballplayer, playing in all 162 games: 161 of them starting at shortstop, and one as the designated hitter.

Rodriguez followed suit in 2002, and compiled another decent year for himself. He bested the major league with 57 homers, 142 RBI, and a solid .300 average.

He also displayed his defensive prowess at shortstop in ’02, winning his first Gold Glove Award. But the height of his success would come the following year in 2003. After being runner-up to the MVP award twice, Rodriguez finally won the award at the conclusion of the 2003 campaign. In ’03, he hit 47 home runs, had 118 RBI, and batted .298.

Despite his personal success, the Texas Rangers finished dead last in the American League Western Division. It was time for A-Rod to have a chance to win.

Rodriguez had been named team captain of the Rangers at the end of the 2003 season, but Texas wished to remove him and his salary. The Red Sox began negotiating with the slugger, and Rodriguez was literally within hours of becoming a member of Red Sox Nation. The deal with Boston eventually fell through, as the MLB players association did not allow the transaction due to voluntary salary reduction.

It was soon after that the Yankees took notice of the suddenly free superstar.

The Yanks were looking for a third baseman, as Aaron Boone, the man who had just won them the American League Championship Series crown in 2003, was injured playing a pickup game of basketball in the off season. Third base was vacant, and the Yankees were on the prowl.

Before anyone knew it, Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees on Feb. 15, 2004 for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later (Joaquin Arias, on March 24). Rodriguez was forced to switch positions and numbers; he made the transition from shortstop to third base (as Derek Jeter already had the shortstop position locked up for the Yanks) and his number from 3 to 13.

He had worn the number three his whole MLB career in homage to his hero, Babe Ruth, but that number has long since been retired for Ruth by the Yankees. Instead, he chose 13 for his football idol, Dan Marino.

In his inaugural season in the Bronx in 2004, Rodriguez hit .286 with 36 homers, and 106 runs batted in. He was accepted by the fans in a notable game on Aug. 4. He smacked a walk-off home run to beat the Oakland Athletics in extra innings, and after that game he was looked at as a big time player in New York. However, when you play in New York, it’s what you do in the post season that matters.

The Yankees met the Red Sox for the second straight year in the ALCS. Rodriguez failed to produce during the final four games of series, and it was the Red Sox’ turn to make history, beating the Yankees four games to three when they were down three games to none.

Rodriguez instantly went from hero to goat, and the Yankee meltdown was looked at as the biggest flop in their team’s history.

Wanting to put the ugly post season exit to the arch-rival Red Sox behind them, the Yankees started the 2005 season with a win over the Red Sox at home. But the Yankees struggled in ’05, starting the first 30 games with an 11-19 record.

Rodriguez had other plans however, and kept hot throughout the season. One of his more special performances came on April 26, when he crushed three homers in a single game against the Angels at home. He also reached another personal milestone, clubbing his 400th career home run at Milwaukee in an inter league match vs. the Brewers on June 8.

Rodriguez once said, “It was satisfying to do it in Milwaukee, because that’s where Hank Aaron played.” In the thick of the season, Rodriguez found himself locked in a heated battle with Red Sox’ slugger David Ortiz for the MVP award. With 48 homers, 130 RBI, and a .321 batting average, he captured the award over the Boston DH.

Unfortunately, however, the Yankees once again were forced to an early post season exit, losing to the Angels in five games.

2006 was quite the year of intrigue for A-Rod.

Generally leading the league in positive, offensive categories, he led the league in errors by a third baseman with 24, and had the lowest fielding percentage among third baseman with .937.

He still put up solid offensive numbers, hitting 35 home runs, knocking in 121 runs, and batting .290. But every time he made an out, the New York crowd jumped all over him. Boo birds came out, and the jeers for Rodriguez got louder and louder with every mistake. In July, he hit a walk-off home run against the Atlanta Braves. After the game he said to the media, “That buys me 20 minutes of a reprieve. When I do something else wrong, they’ll boo again.”

The Yankees made the post season in ‘06, but Rodriguez was not in the right frame of mind. He was so mentally broken, Yankee manager Joe Torre placed him eighth in the batting order in the American League Division Series. For the second straight year, the Yankees were eliminated from the post season in the first round, this time at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. Rodriguez’ struggles continued, as he once again was looked at as a goat.

Going back to the drawing board, the Yankees noticed a change in Rodriguez coming into spring training, 2007. To his teammates, his attitude seemed to be in a more positive place, and he seemed less bothered by pressure.

He certainly looked outstanding coming out of the gate, performing terrifically in the first month of the 2007 season. Losing by three runs in the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes in the count on April 7, Rodriguez smashed a clutch, game-winning, walk-off grand slam vs. the Baltimore Orioles and immediately silenced his critics. With that slam, he also matched the record for career walk-off grannies with three, and now shares the record with Vern Stephens and Cy Williams.

12 days later, he cracked yet another game-winning, walk-off homer against the Cleveland Indians in the ninth inning with two out. That month, he hit a total of 14 home runs, matching a record set by Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols in 2006.

On Aug. 4, 2007 A-Rod reached yet another milestone in his young career. With the Yankee fans back on his side, and sitting on 499 career home runs, he walked to the plate against the Kansas City Royals at home. He swung his bat, and clobbered Royals’ pitcher Kyle Davies’s offering into the porch in left field for his 500th career home run as flash bulbs illuminated the stadium.

With his arms lifted in the air like a heavyweight prize fighter, Rodriguez rounded the bases and met his teammates at home plate.

He was and still is the youngest player to ever reach 500 home runs at 32 years, eight days, and he joined Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle being the only players to hit their 500th career homers in pinstripes. He said to Kim Jones of the YES Network after the game, “I’m just glad that 500 was a nice moment, it came with a win, and now we can move on to bigger and better things.

There’s so much support, and the fans have been unbelievable.” With 54 homers, 156 RBI, and a .314 batting average, Rodriguez earned his third MVP award at the end of the campaign. He received 26 first place votes out of a possible 28.

The Yankees once again faltered in the 2007 post season, as did Rodriguez. They were eliminated in the first round for the third straight year, as the Indians knocked them out of the playoffs. But the bigger story was not the Yankees’ season ending, but whether or not A-Rod would stay a Yankee.

His contract allowed him to opt-out of his deal, become a free agent, and sign with another team if he chose to. The Yankees had originally attempted to negotiate with A-Rod in the middle of the 2007 season.

Rodriguez was not interested in talking with the Yankees during the season, and the Yankees basically countered by telling him in not so many words, “If you choose to opt-out, we will not chase after you because you are not negotiating.”

To no surprise, Rodriguez opted out, but the timing of his announcement was extremely untimely. While the Boston Red Sox were on their way to winning their second World Series title in four years, Rodriguez opted-out in the middle of the fall classic, which left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

Rodriguez, now a free agent, sought employment elsewhere. But with a little influence from his daughter, he chose to go back to the place he called home. “My daughter said, ‘daddy if you leave, I’ll miss my bedroom in New York, and I’ll miss Central Park.’ I always wanted to be a Yankee and retire a Yankee, so I needed to go back,” he said.

And come back he did. He was given a new, 10-year deal with no opt-out clause worth $290 million. In addition to the initial $290 million, he can potentially earn up to $305 million if he breaks the all-time home run record. With that, he was back in the Bronx for Yankee Stadium’s final season in 2008.

Coming off his MVP season, A-Rod had another stellar year, despite missing some time with a hamstring injury. He hit 35 home runs, had 103 RBI, and hit .302. The Yankees fell short of even making the post season in ’08, the first time they missed the tournament in 13 years.

Lou Pinella, Rodriguez’s manager in Seattle, once said, “Alex has done it all: All Star selections, MVPs, Gold Gloves. But now he’s got to put a ring on his finger, and the Yankees will always provide him with that chance every year.”

With the Yankees moving into a new ballpark in 2009, Rodriguez is looking to do some great things this coming season. With new faces and a new look, the Yankees will begin their journey to a possible 27th World Series title on April 6 at Baltimore. But no matter what happens, A-Rod will always be looked at as an extraordinary person.

“My parents always said, ‘even if someone is better than you, do not let them outwork you.’ But Alex is the best player, and I don’t know anyone who will work harder,” Jeter once said.

There’s no doubt that Rodriguez will go down as one of the greatest players to ever grace the game of baseball. And only time will tell what else this astounding athlete will accomplish in the many years to come.


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