Chronicling Alex Rodriguez's Journey from Immortal Superstar to Cheat
There will never be another ballplayer quite like Alex Rodriguez.
...And that's a very complicated sentiment.
One look at A-Rod's numbers and list of accolades is all you need to be convinced that he's one of the greatest players ever to grace the diamond. He's a lifetime .300 hitter with 647 home runs, three MVP awards, two Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star selections and one World Series title to his name.
A-Rod is a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer based on this particular mountain of evidence, not to mention in the discussion of the greatest players ever with Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and others.
However, it's the other mountain of evidence that eliminates him from talk of the HOF and places him into the discussion of the greatest frauds ever to come along not just in baseball, but in all sports. It's all come quite swiftly, too, as the image of A-Rod as a fraud only started coming together a few years ago.
In its entirety, A-Rod's transition from hero to goat makes for quite the saga. And it goes a little something like this.
Early 1990s to 2008: From High School Stardom to All-Time Greatness
A-Rod's journey to baseball superstardom didn't have a happy beginning. As Sports Illustrated's Joe Lemire told the tale a few years back, Rodriguez's high school career began with him getting cut from the varsity squad as a freshman at Columbus High in Miami.
He went on to make the varsity team at Westminster Christian as a sophomore, but he was more of a classic all-fielding, no-hitting shortstop than a new-age, Cal Ripken-esque slugging shortstop.
"I saw him as more of a defensive player than an offensive player," said then-Westminster coach Rich Hofman.
Like something out of a Rocky montage, A-Rod then started to put on weight. He gained 25 pounds and started doing 300-pound reps on the bench press. Next thing anyone knew, he proceeded to hit .505 with nine home runs as a senior in 1993 and found himself atop MLB draft boards.
Just six years after they had made Ken Griffey Jr. the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 draft, the Seattle Mariners took A-Rod No. 1 overall in 1993. Scott Boras got him a $1 million signing bonus and a three-year contract worth $1.3 million.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, A-Rod was Baseball America's No. 1 overall prospect by 1995. He posted a 1.065 OPS at Triple-A that year, and he was Seattle's Opening Day shortstop by 1996. Fittingly, he won the Mariners' first game of the season with a walk-off hit.
His star power began to snowball pretty much immediately. A-Rod made the All-Star team in 1996 and won the American League batting title with a .358 average. He finished second in the MVP voting behind Juan Gonzalez.
After coming down to earth in 1997, A-Rod became the third player to join the 40-40 club in 1998 by hitting 42 home runs and stealing 46 bases. By the end of his age-24 season in 2000, he was sitting on 189 career homers, four All-Star appearances and three top-10 MVP finishes.
A-Rod's first three years in Texas were a resounding success for him personally. He played in all but one game, compiling a 1.011 OPS and hitting 156 home runs, just 33 fewer than he had hit in parts of seven seasons prior to going to Texas. He won the AL MVP in 2003.
But the Rangers weren't winning. They finished in last place each season between 2001 and 2003, and records show that their attendance declined each year.
"Coming to the Yankees, I feel energized, reborn," said A-Rod at his introductory news conference (via MLB.com's Tom Singer). "I feel special, honored."
A-Rod's Yankees career got off to a slow start in 2004. He hit only 36 home runs, his lowest total since 1997, and hit under .300 with a sub-.900 OPS. An initially strong showing in the postseason quickly fell apart after the Yankees went up 3-0 on the Red Sox in the ALCS. A-Rod collected only two hits in 17 at-bats as the Yankees lost four straight and the series.
Rodriguez was much more like himself the following year, hitting an AL-high 48 home runs with a league-best 1.031 OPS. He won his second AL MVP award.
He went on to win another in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs with a league-best 1.067 OPS, ultimately capitalizing on his increased value by opting out of his contract and signing a new pact for 10 years and $275 million.
The first season of Rodriguez's new deal in 2008 was a disappointment. His home run total fell from 54 to 35, and he played in only 138 games thanks to various injuries.
That was the beginning of the end for A-Rod as a player. He hasn't played in more than 137 games in a season since 2008, and his power production has tailed off dramatically. He now stands alone as the most overpaid player in baseball.
For A-Rod's legacy, however, the beginning of the end came in 2007.
2007-2008: The Mitchell Report, and A-Rod's Famous Denial
Major League Baseball knew it had a problem with performance-enhancing drugs well before 2007. The public knew it by then as well and had already turned on the star players who had been linked to PEDs by various news reports through the years.
But it wasn't until the Mitchell Report was released in December of 2007 that the sheer scope of baseball's PED problem really came into focus.
In the words of Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
Mitchell's 409-page report describes a game in which performance-enhancing drugs have been used at a stunning depth—abuse that was ignored by people throughout baseball. Mitchell cites a "code of silence" among players that protected steroid users, and he blames the overall problem on everyone from Commissioner Bud Selig and players' union chief Don Fehr to team trainers and clubhouse attendants.
Numerous players were named in the report, from nobodies like F.P. Santangelo and Josias Manzanillo to superstars like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.
However, there was no mention of A-Rod. Not one.
Then-CBS reporter Katie Couric arranged an interview with Rodriguez in the wake of the Mitchell Report in which she asked him point-blank whether he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs like steroids or human growth hormone.
His answer was a simple no, and he also denied ever even being tempted to use PEDs.
"I've never felt overmatched on the baseball field. I've always been a very strong, dominant position. And I felt that if I did my work as I've done since I was, you know, a rookie back in Seattle, I didn't have a problem competing at any level," said A-Rod.
Since A-Rod's name wasn't in George Mitchell's clearly thorough report, it was hard to refute Rodriguez's denial.
Disgraced former slugger Jose Canseco tried to stir up a controversy by writing in his 2008 book Vindicated, a follow-up to Juiced, that he had introduced A-Rod to a steroid supplier in the late 1990s. It was a flimsy accusation, though, and then-SI.com writer Jon Heyman wrote that Canseco had a beef with Rodriguez over money.
Based on his own words and the lack of concrete evidence, A-Rod was a clean ballplayer as recently as 2008. At that point, he had 553 home runs to his name, and he hadn't even embarked on his age-33 season. One of the greatest ever, indeed.
Then came the year 2009, and everything was ruined.
2009: A Cheater Is Revealed, and the Floodgates are Opened
A-Rod's legacy was hit by a torpedo on the eve of spring training in 2009 by a report from Selena Roberts and David Epstein of Sports Illustrated. In the report, it was revealed that A-Rod had tested positive for PEDs in 2003 when MLB had carried out a survey test that nabbed over 100 players.
A-Rod had tested positive for testosterone and an anabolic steroid called Primobolan. Not surprisingly, Primobolan is one of the more expensive steroids out there, as SI noted that it cost $500 for a 12-week cycle. The inflated cost may have something to do with the fact that it's a steroid with relatively few side effects.
When SI tried to get a quote from Rodriguez for the story, he declined to say anything.
"You'll have to talk to the union," he said.
A few days later he was sitting in a chair in front of then-ESPN scribe Peter Gammons, confessing that what was in the SI report was absolutely true.
"I did take a banned substance. And for that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful," said A-Rod.
Rodriguez said he took to juicing upon joining the Rangers in 2001 and continued to juice until 2003, the year he tested positive. This created an explanation for why he could go from averaging 42 home runs per season between 1998 and 2000 to averaging 52 home runs per season between 2001 and 2003.
Rodriguez admitted that juicing up his numbers was the whole idea.
"When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me and I needed to perform, and perform at a high level every day," he said.
A few days later, A-Rod found himself in front of a bank of microphones in Tampa, where he fessed up in a formal press conference in front of Yankees teammates. He declined to go into too many specifics about what he had taken, saying only that he had taken a substance from the Dominican Republic called "Boli," and that his cousin was the one who had been administering it (via ESPN.com).
"I didn't think they were steroids," said A-Rod. He later added, "I knew we weren't taking Tic Tacs."
Then-ESPN writer Amy K. Nelson eventually revealed A-Rod's mysterious cousin to be Yuri Sucart. Said a friend close to A-Rod:
Yuri was a mule, not a guy who would initiate anything. He did what Alex told him to. He was only looking out for Alex. He is not a guy who would take the initiative to go out and buy drugs. Alex said during the press conference that his cousin just did what was asked —that is perfect for Yuri's M.O. He is a person who would be with him forever, a loyal guy without a bad bone in his body.
Not long after, the New York Daily News reported that the Yankees had banned Sucart from being around the team.
The hits kept coming for Rodriguez after his initial confessions in February of 2009. He had surgery on his right hip in March that cost him the first month of the season. While he was recovering, more allegations came to light.
Selena Roberts, who had contributed to the SI report that revealed A-Rod's positive 2003 test, also wrote a book about him. Excerpts released in April of 2009 to the Daily News claimed that Rodriguez and then-Yankees pitcher Kevin Brown had been spotted together with HGH in 2004.
Rodriguez went on to gain 15 pounds the following offseason, and his pronounced pectorals earned him quite the nickname among his Yankees teammates. On the field, A-Rod went on to enjoy an MVP season.
What's more, a former high school teammate of A-Rod's told Roberts that he had been using steroids as far back as high school, which would explain his considerable weight gain and the newfound power that helped make him a No. 1 overall pick.
That may have been the beginning of A-Rod's cheating. It's still unclear exactly where the end is.
2010-2011: Linked to Controversial Doctor Anthony Galea
A cloud hung over the beginning of A-Rod's 2009 season thanks to the fuss that was kicked up in February, but he didn't have much trouble getting people to focus on baseball again.
Though he played in only 124 games, Rodriguez hit 30 home runs and compiled a .933 OPS in 2009, ultimately finishing 10th in the AL MVP voting. He followed up his strong regular season with a series of huge performances in the postseason, collecting six homers and 18 RBI en route to his first World Series championship and the Yankees' 27th overall.
The euphoria didn't last for long. In February of 2010, Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times reported that Rodriguez had received treatment "at some point" from Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who was under federal investigation for distributing PEDs.
A-Rod was treated by Dr. Mark Lindsay, a Canadian chiropractor with ties to Galea, during his rehab from hip surgery in 2009. An unnamed athlete told Schmidt that Galea had talked about traveling from Canada to New York to treat A-Rod personally.
Exactly what sort of treatment Galea provided for Rodriguez is still unclear, but Galea eventually pleaded guilty in 2011 to transporting unapproved drugs across the border. His case didn't go to trial, though, meaning no medical records or witness testimonies that could have shed light on his relationship with Rodriguez were made public.
Because of that, it's a mystery as to whether Galea was supplying A-Rod with any PEDs during his recovery from hip surgery in 2009. One possibility, however, is that Rodriguez may have been supplying these drugs on his own thanks to another hook-up.
2013: The World Learns of Biogenesis
Already in decline, A-Rod's career started to go into a tailspin in September of 2012. He returned from a stint on the disabled list to manage a mere .710 OPS down the stretch, and then mustered only three hits in 25 at-bats in the postseason.
In late January, the Miami New Times reported its findings on a now-closed wellness clinic in the Miami area called Biogenesis, run by a man named Anthony Bosch. Several ballplayers were named, but Rodriguez was the star of the show.
His name turned up 16 times in clinic records obtained by the New Times. When A-Rod's name did pop up, it was next to damning evidence of recent PED use. A 2009 entry, for example, listed a payment of $3,500 next to a list of substances such as HGH and testosterone.
Sucart is also named in the records, which say he bought $500 worth of HGH in 2009. The records continue to mention Rodriguez himself straight through 2012, with the last one saying that Rodriguez owed $4,000 and that he had "three weeks of Sub-Q."
Sub-Q is a mixture of HGH, IGF-1—a banned substance that stimulates insulin production and muscle growth—and other substances.
"He was always talking about A-Rod," said a former Biogenesis employee of Bosch. "We never saw any athletes in the office, so we didn't know if he was just talking [bleep] or not. But he would brag about how tight they were."
Three of the players named in the clinic's records—Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal—have all been suspended by Major League Baseball in recent months. The clinic itself is under investigation by both MLB and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
A-Rod's people issued a statement to Ken Davidoff and Joel Sherman of the New York Post claiming that he "was not Mr. Bosch’s patient, he was never treated by him and he was never advised by him."
Do you believe that A-Rod only juiced from 2001 to 2003?
Rodriguez is innocent until proven guilty. And fortunately for him, this is a case where he may not be proven guilty even if he is. The Biogenesis records make for somewhat flimsy evidence, and MLB may not be able to dig up additional evidence. The New York Times has reported that the government isn't going to help.
So for now, it's Rodriguez's word against that of Bosch and the records. The records say he juiced between 2009 and 2012...he says he didn't. That's where we stand: somewhere beyond the allegations and the denial.
A-Rod's last major denial came in 2007, when he swore to Katie Couric that he had never used PEDs. He was revealed to be a liar just a few months later.
If A-Rod is to be believed, he only cheated from 2001 to 2003. If all the evidence—weak and strong alike—is to be believed, he's been cheating for two decades.
There will likely always be uncertainty about A-Rod's habits. What is certain now, however, is that you can't get the whole story of his career from the back of one of his baseball cards.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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