There was a point in Alex Rodriguez’ career where he was considered the face of baseball. Right after the decline of 90’s icon and former teammate Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod was next-in-line to take over the league.
Derek Jeter had already cemented himself as a proven champion and World Series MVP, and now A-Rod with all the tools at his disposal–power, speed, and defense– was primed to break all the records and follow in Jeter’s and Griffey’s footsteps as an ambassador for the league.
In 2004, the New York Yankees dealt for Rodriguez and would eventually sign the short-stop turned third baseman to what was then the largest deal for any athlete in history: 10 years, $275 million.
The Yankees, for their historic tradition, were considered in a drought. They hadn’t won a World Series in a little over four years; A-Rod would be their answer. He would not only hope to restore the glory for the Yankees, but carry the torch for the new generation of players in the league.
He produced early on for the Yankees, winning two Al MVP’s in his first two years and became the youngest player in MLB history to hit 500 home runs in 2007.
But in what’s been a recent nauseated couple of seasons for the Yankee faithful, many of those stats and accolades are lost with A-Rod’s inability to perform when it mattered most–the post season.
Rodriguez, like so many before him, came to the Yankees with the idea of becoming the next immortalized symbol of greatness. He wanted to be a part of that conversation of October magic like the Reggie Jacksons and Aaron Boones before him.
But much like people’s knowledge of his use of performance-enhancing drugs at the time, A-Rod was non-existent in October, batting sub-.200 in multiple postseasons and earning such nicknames as “The Cooler” and “A-Fraud” from teammates and fans for his lackluster play.
The facts that would go on to derail his career would soon come at him faster than a two-seam fast ball.
In February of 2009, after multiple instances of Rodriguez denying his use of performance-enhancing drugs, he admitted to his use of steroids-specifically during his tenure with the Texas Rangers (2001-2003).
The former Mariner and Ranger would eventually be forced to miss the entire 2014 season after the league suspended him for the use of PED’s, but more importantly, his already criticized game was now pegged illegitimate by the very same people that pushed Pete Rose out of baseball and have proposed placing asterisks by the names of Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire (also linked to PED’s).
Rodriguez came back with a purpose in 2015, a year that saw him earn votes for the MLB’s Comeback Player of the Year and regain the respect from his peers and fans.
The 40-year-old vet tallied 33 home runs and 83 runs scored (his most since 2008) while playing 151 out of 182 games last season, helping the Yankees reach the postseason for the first time in three years.
It was an all but too late reminder of what the Yankees–and the MLB– had wished for A-Rod to become, as he reached the 3,000 hit club and surpassed hall-of-famer Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home runs list.
Early Wednesday, Alex Rodriguez announced that he would retire from the MLB after the 2017 season, the year in which his current contract with the New York Yankees expires.
And after 20 years in the league, what is one to make of his controversially illustrious career?
Rodriguez has put together a memorable 20-year campaign in the big leagues that screams hall-of-fame. Going into the 2016 season, A-Rod has a.297 batting average, batted in over 2,000 RBI’s, over 3,00o hits, and most notably, 687 homes runs.
The latter is a number people will keep an eye on as he plays his final two seasons with the Yankees. Rodriguez would need to average 38 home runs these next two seasons to surpass Barry Bonds as the all-time leader in career home runs (762).
So with these final two years remaining, will fans and baseball allow A-Rod the opportunity to continue on the path that his 2015 season has paved in hopes of restoring the legitimacy back in his game and more importantly, his name?
Granted his health stays intact, the baseball world will definitely be tuned-in to find out.
[Photo by Kathy Kmonicek/AP Images]