In the past few years, several baseball icons have retired, among them a group of New York Yankees that defined a generation of Major League Baseball. Now, another iconic figure — Alex Rodriguez — has left the game behind. But where Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter went out with standing ovations around the country, the end of A-Rod’s saga came with a series of benchings culminating in a press conference to announce that things are over. There are no fanfares, no gifts, no speeches to mark Rodriguez’s departure. And yet, his mark on the game is undeniable.
So how will A-Rod be remembered? Will it be as the career .297 hitter who had 696 home runs and over 3,000 hits? Or will it be as the steroid-user, the cheater, the focal point of continual scandal? Let’s take a walk down memory lane and find out.
Rodriguez was not a class act. On the field, his steroid use tarnished his reputation. He repeatedly lied about his use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, flat out denying use of them until it was proven that he had, when he admitted using steroids from 2001 to 2003. Rodriguez then went on to be a spokesman for an anti-steroid, youth education foundation, talking about the dangers of steroids.
However, he continued to use drugs, most infamously in the Biogenesis scandal in 2013, then was suspended for the entire 2014 season on charges that he engaged in a course of conduct intended to “obstruct and frustrate” the baseball commissioner’s investigation. This alone leaves an asterisk next to his numbers, but Rodriguez’s woes do not end there.
Off the field, A-Rod’s personal life was one strikeout after another. News reports constantly reported his affairs with strippers and prostitutes, even while married. His marriage ended in a divorce, after which he has dated a series of movie stars.
After the Biogenesis scandal, he sued the Yankees and the MLB, only to dismiss the suits, apparently in exchange for a reduced suspension. His relationship with his teammates was lukewarm at best, and he even received derogatory nicknames such as “A-Fraud” and “The Cooler.” He was booed at one time or another in virtually every stadium in which he played, including loud and routine sneers from the fans at Safeco Field in Seattle, where his free-agency exit in 2000 to the division rival Texas Rangers left the Mariners with bitter feelings for a long time afterward.
All that aside, A-Rod’s performance on the field was nothing short of magnificent. He is fourth all-time in home runs, third in RBIs, 19th in hits, first in grand slams.
He is a 14-time all-star, a three-time MVP, a 10-time Silver Slugger and a five-time home run leader. He dominated at the plate and played very well at shortstop and third base. He played hard and helped the Yankees win the World Series in 2009. His bat was so fast that it looked like a toy in his hands. His front side would fly open and the ball would speed off his bat, carrying well over the outfield wall.
Although he was disliked, he never took it lying down. In 2013 at Fenway Park, Rodriguez was thrown at more than once in the first inning, finally being plunked in the shoulder on a 3-0 count by Ryan Dempster. A-Rod responded to the intentional shot by going 2-2 with a home run and two RBIs. In fact, A-Rod was hit by 176 pitches in his career, good for 14th all-time. You could count on him to have a good game afterward.
So just how will Alex Rodriguez be remembered? His numbers are phenomenal, among the best in baseball’s storied history. But his reputation as a public figure, a teammate and a man is deeply, irrevocably tarnished. Many will remember the numbers, many the controversy. I prefer to remember him as a young phenom in a Mariners uniform who could dazzle at the plate and at shortstop, a rising star who had yet to fall from public grace. Not all good starts end well. Baseball will go on, but it will surely miss its dazzling villain.