Alex Rodriguez, also known as AROD, should be enjoying admiration for his accolades at this point of his career. Instead, he is facing the biggest scrutiny of his career for his involvement with performance enhancement drugs (“PEDs”). In 2009, he admitted to using steroids only after his name was leaked as positive for steroids as part of confidential drugs tests in 2003. However, he was still in the prime of his career and had plenty of time to play clean and redeem his reputation. Unfortunately, an unprecedented 211 game suspension related to AROD’s involvement with the Biogenesis clinic in Miami ends any chance AROD has of salvation. While many New York Yankee fans are hoping AROD never comes back so the team can escape the terrible contract it gave him after the 2007 season, I think it is just sad that a player who was once the consensus best player in the game has completely fallen.
Ascension to Best Player in the Game
Alex Rodriguez was a phenomenon ever since he was drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners. When he joined the major league team, the Mariners already had a great offense led by the best player in the game, centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. AROD quickly challenged Griffey’s claim to the best in baseball and the two players formed one of the most feared 1-2 punches in the history of baseball. In AROD’s first full season in 1996, he hit a ridiculous .358 with 36 homeruns, 123 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases. In an injury shortened 1997, Rodriguez still had 23 homeruns and increased his stolen base total to 29. His final 3 seasons in Seattle were brilliant showing power and speed. In 1998, he joined the 40/40 club with 42 homeruns and 46 stolen bases. The next two seasons, AROD had 42 homeruns and 21 stolen bases then 41 homeruns and 25 stolen bases. As he also played gold glove defense at a premium position at shortstop, he made a strong case for the best player in the game. However, his teammate Ken Griffey Jr. put up just as gaudy offensive stats while playing another premium position in center field. It is mind boggling to think that the Mariners had two players putting such eye popping offensive stats while playing great defense in two of the most premium positions in baseball. With his superstar status, he became one of the most popular players in the game. He was on the path to being the greatest shortstop in history as well as ascending to one of the most beloved player such as Griffey or another Hall of Fame shortstop, Cal Ripken Jr.
However, the Mariners traded Griffey after the 2000 season to the Cincinnati Reds and AROD left for Texas for a 10 year and $252 million contract. Nevertheless, Rodriguez lived up to his contract as he hit 52, 57, and 47 homeruns with the Texas Rangers. He also took his place as the best player in the game as he put up those stats while Griffey broke down in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, AROD took a lot of heat for his big contract. First, it was initially believed that he would sign with his childhood favorite team, the New York Mets. However, his agent, Scott Boras, made ridiculous demands on top of salary that created the image that AROD wanted to be treated differently than his teammates. As there are 25 players on a major league team, the notion of 24 vs 1 (the one being AROD) plagued Rodriguez after the negotiations with the Mets. After signing the largest contract in the history of professional sports and abandoning the Mariners, he was criticized for being greedy. In addition, his contract became a financial burden on the Texas Rangers and they were not able to compete with AROD on the team. As such, he was criticized for being selfish and making it impossible for his team to compete. I thought the criticism was unfair as an owner was willing to give him that money and there are not many people in the world that would turn down that money.
Moreover, the top three shortstops in the game were AROD, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra. While AROD’s otherworldly offensive statistics and sparking defense put him on top, Yankees and Red Sox fans argued over whether Jeter was better than Garciaparra. While Red Sox fans argued that Garciaparra’s offensive stats were slightly better than Jeter’s, Yankee fans responded that Jeter had more rings. Nevertheless, it was difficult to use the rings to form a logical argument against AROD’s stats to proclaim that Jeter was the best shortstop in baseball.
New York Yankee Career Part I
After the 2003 season, the Boston Red Sox were trying to acquire AROD for Manny Ramirez after a heartbreaking 7 game ALCS loss to the New York Yankees. While AROD was willing to have his contract reduced to join the Red Sox, the players association/ union did not allow his contract to be reduced. When the Yankees lost third basemen Aaron Boone right before the start of the 2004 season, it opened an opportunity to acquire AROD and transition him to third. While Rodriguez was a better shortstop than Derek Jeter, he was willing to shift to third base in order to play alongside Jeter on the Yankees and play for a contender. As a Yankee fan, I was thrilled that the Yankees were able to acquire the best player in the game when the Red Sox failed. While the trade of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees changed the history of both franchises and caused an 86 year championship drought for the Red Sox and counting as of 2004, Yankees fans were hoping the acquisition of AROD would continue the Red Sox drought and Yankee championships for the next century.
While AROD had great regular season success for the Yankees including 2 MVPs, Yankee fans criticized him for his postseason failures and the Yankees inability to continue the success of the late 90s with Rodriguez on the team. In the 2004 playoffs, AROD was having a great postseason before he struggled along with the rest of the Yankee hitters during the Red Sox historic victory after being down 3 games to none in the series. Criticism for AROD really began when he slapped the ball out of reliever Bronson Arroyo’s glove in the 8th inning of Game 6 stalling a Yankee rally. As such, he was criticized for being bush league as he did not have to resort to such antics as the best player. Moreover, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling added the notion that AROD was a hired gun and not a true Yankee. Nevertheless, AROD responded in the 2005 regular season winning his first MVP with the Yankees batting a ridiculous .321 with 48 homeruns, 130 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases. However, the Yankees were eliminated in 5 games in the First Round by the Los Angeles Angels. While Jeter homered during the 5th and deciding game as well as single to start the 9th inning, AROD quickly erased Jeter by grounding into a double play. While a couple of Yankees got on base to bring the tying run to the plate, AROD took the heat for crippling the rally in the 9th. As such, fans started to criticize him for his postseason failures while Jeter maintained his praise as a big game player.
The 2006 postseason was a low point in AROD’s Yankee career. During the 4 game loss to the First Round loss to the Detroit Tigers, AROD was embarrassed by manager Joe Torre by being moved to the 8th spot of the lineup during the series. In 2007, AROD responded with another MVP season batting .314 with 56 homeruns and 156 RBIs. However, the Yankees were again eliminated in 4 games in the First Round by the Cleveland Indians as AROD did not play well. After the 2007 season, AROD decided to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. In addition, his agent Scott Boras announced the opt out during the deciding Game 4 of the World Series as the Red Sox defeated the Colorado Rockies. As a result, AROD took criticism for trying to upstage the World Series with his contract situation. Moreover, the Yankees were insulted by Boras during the negotiations and refused to continue to have Boras involved with the process. Eventually, AROD smoothed the situation over. He even got advice from billionaire Warren Buffett as he wanted to remain a Yankee. Owner Hank Steinbrenner bought it and authorized a 10 year $272 million contract. While the decision appears stupid right now, the Yankees thought that they would make a ton of money as AROD chased the career homerun record. The Yankees hoped that AROD would to return the record to the Yankees. In addition, they also believed AROD was clean and would gain praise for breaking the record.
Jose Canseco Allegations
In 2005, Canseco released a book admitting to his steroid use and exposing steroid use in baseball. He named specific names. As he was bitter for not being able to play, many people dismissed Canseco as some of the players he named were clean cut. However, the BALCO case that exposed some of the best players in the game (Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, etc.) and the pathetic performance from prominent players in front of Congress as they remained silent in order to avoid perjury proved Canseco credible. During the hearing in front of Congress, Mark McGwire refused to talk and Sammy Sosa forgot how to speak English. The most famous scene was first basemen Rafael Palmerio waving his finger and declaring that he never took steroids. As he was clean cut, many people believed him over Canseco. However, Palmeiro eventually tested positive for steroids and Canseco was fully vindicated.
In Canesco’s second book, he accused AROD of asking him about steroids and using them. Canseco also accused AROD for hitting on his wife. While Canseco turned out to be correct in his first book, I felt he was using that credibility to vindictively hurt an individual he did not like. Whether it was out of jealousy for the accolades that AROD was receiving or a personal dispute, I thought Canseco was out to get AROD and was lying. I also remember an interview of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on ESPN. When AROD was asked about cheating, AROD calmly replied with a smile that he knew his statistics were legitimate. Moreover, other players praised AROD for performing his feats naturally. Even his sharp critic Curt Schilling noted that it showed what a physical freak AROD was for his natural accomplishments in an era filled with cheaters.
Sports are children’s games. As such, the child inside me wanted to believe in my sports heroes. Similar to Roger Clemens, I wanted to believe that the best players in the game were able to do it naturally with hard work. Unfortunately, time proved me naïve. It no longer shocks me that a superstar is cheating. Of course, AROD was exposed in 2009 for confidential drug tests in 2003. In 2009, I felt sorry for AROD. The tests in 2003 were supposed to be private in order to identify whether there was a steroids problem in baseball. The tests were supposed to be anonymous. As AROD was the only one exposed in a population that had over 100 failed tests, I felt it was unfair for him to be singled out when there were other confirmed cheaters and the names were never supposed to be released per the original agreement. Moreover, AROD said that he only used during his time in Texas as he felt the pressure of his massive contract to produce. He appeared candid and I believed him again.
New York Yankees Career Part II
While AROD had a modest 2009 regular season for his standards, he had a big postseason and carried the Yankees to their 27th title. As I believed he would not dare cheat with testing in place, his performance seemed to support that he would have been a great player anyway. More importantly, I felt his 2009 postseason would end criticism of his postseason play. However, New York fans are relentless. AROD had a poor 2010 postseason. In 2011, he began to break down and had a poor postseason. In 2012, he was pinch hit for during the first round of the playoffs and eventually benched all together. As such, Yankees fans disregarded his 2009 postseason as a fluke and continued their criticism of AROD as a choker.
I always thought Yankee fans were unfair to AROD for his on the field performance. He was a brilliant regular season player and won 2 MVPs for the Yankees. His postseason stats were well below his regular season stats. However, he had impossible expectations. The Yankees 90s dynasty made it look like winning was easy. As such, anything short of a championship was a failure. Anyone that was not part of the 90s dynasty had to prove that they could win. However, the postseason is a much smaller sample size. Moreover, you are only facing the top competition and the best pitchers. In addition, AROD is a homerun hitter. As such, a single would not be enough. He is expected to hit homeruns. As a result, I think it is a reason sluggers typically have trouble in the playoffs. They are expected to hit homeruns and put pressure on themselves to hit homeruns while the postseason is filled with top pitchers that do not give up too many homeruns. However, I would concede that AROD is not a perfect hitter. He is not a pure hitter as he does guess a lot.
Nevertheless, I did not question his big game ability after his 2009 performance. As far as I was concerned, AROD proved himself and additional criticism was due to impossible expectations related to a big contract. Moreover, he was getting older and breaking down. In particular, I thought the criticism for the 2012 postseason was unfair. The entire Yankee team stopped hitting. However, all the blame fell on AROD. Superstar Robinson Cano went into the postseason red hot and did nothing. Cano is also in his prime. Nevertheless, an aging AROD took a lot more criticism than Cano. It showed the burden of being Alex Rodriguez and having a big contract. I also do not blame AROD for his contract. Why would he not accept such a massive contract? It is the Yankees fault for giving it to him.
Nevertheless, AROD came to New York to prove that he was the best player in the game and to better his legacy. Instead, his postseason struggles diminished his own on the field accomplishments while elevating Derek Jeter’s legacy for his postseason success.
Biogenesis Clinic and AROD’s Legacy
The links to the clinic in Miami proved that AROD was a pathological liar and continued to cheat despite his claims that his cheating was limited to his 3 years in Texas. As such, even I cannot defend him anymore. To be honest, it is fair to question whether he has cheated for most if not all of his career. It completely discredits AROD as a player and a person. Instead of being remembered as one of the game’s greatest players, he will be disdained as one of the game’s greatest cheaters. It is a sad end for a player who I was once amazed by as I looked at his stats. I completely feared him when the Yankees faced him and had total respect for him when he played for the Yankees. While I still remember how amazing he was on the field, I have to concede that all of those memories may be a fraud. He has made it worse by remaining defiant against the evidence and responding with delusional and arrogant remarks. While he will return to the Yankees to play and collect on his massive contract, he will return as a 40 year old. He will be away from the game for almost 2 years at an advanced age and without the help of PEDs. He will be a shell of himself and be booed everywhere. There is no question now that he will be the most hated professional athlete, even by his own fans.
Legacy of PEDs in Baseball
While each individual is ultimately responsible for his own actions, baseball and the players association/ union have a lot of culpability in not implementing a strict drug prevention program, testing, and policies. In my profession, the fraud triangle is comprised of incentive, opportunity, and rationalization. The players had obvious incentive in the form of massive contracts. Even marginal players had incentive to cheat for a Major League contract. Opportunity spawned as players could obtain the drugs and baseball did nothing to stop them. As such, it led to rationalization as players just told themselves that everyone was doing it so they had to use just to be on a level playing field.
Baseball will have to live with its legacy of cheating. It will have to live with the fact that some of its greatest players (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez) are cheats whose careers have been forever tarnished. While some of those players may eventually make it to the Hall of Fame, it will be difficult for writers and the public to forget this additional stain on AROD’s career and the lack of grace he is handling the situation with in response.