A-Rod, The Rise, The Fall, and the Ruins

Looking over some old pictures, I came across a couple of a Yankees game I went to. There’s a group picture of all of us, and there’s one of me and my cousin Paul, standing up and clapping at something that had just happened. The picture was taken from behind, and what stuck out most was what was written on the back of my jersery: Rodriguez, and below it, the number 13. “I had an A-Rod jersery?” I asked incredulously. “Sure,” my mom said, “you used to think he was great.”

And didnt’ we all? He was the chosen one, the greatest hitter in the past 50 years, the one who was supposed to reclaim the home run record from Bonds and stand alone with 763 home runs or more. He was supposed to do it clean, so Hank Aaron could rest in peace knowing the person who surpassed him for the home run crown had done it clean, free of any PED’s. Brian Cashman traded for A-Rod because he wanted one thing-a 27th championship.

The star of the show in Texas and before that, Seattle, A-Rod suddenly wasn’t top dog in his first season in pinstripes, 2004. He had to slide over to third base to accomadate the Yankee Captain, and he was surrounded by other stars. Mariano Rivera, Gary Sheffield, Jeter, Bernie Williams. Yankees fans didn’t have to like him. And New Yorkers can be brutal if you don’t live up to your expectations. He turned in a very good season, but not good enough. .286 and 36 home runs is not enough for the former MVP. 24 errors wouldn’t endear you to the fans of any team. For the first time, A-Rod was booed. He wasn’t used to that.

He quickly recovered though. A-Rod turned in some stellar seasons with the Yankees in the following years, winning 2 MVP awards on a perennial playoff team. But that still wasn’t enough for Brian Cashman, or for the fans. A horrific collapse in 2004 followed by repeated failures to return to the fall classic put Yankees fans on edge. They hadn’t won a world series in nearly 10 years, which was pushing it with the fans who had hoped for another dynasty, led by No. 13 himself. To make matters worse, A-Rod struggled in the playoffs. He was bad. Really bad. Bernie Williams had retired, Gary Sheffield had left, Randy Johnson was gone. It was all falling to A-Rod to come up with the clutch hit, drive in the game winning run. That was his job. Drive Damon and Jeter in. He did it exceptionally well in the regular season, but continued to fail in the playoffs. In 2008, Alex was still good, but the Yankees had fallen on tough times. Upsurped by the Tampa Bay Rays, former cellar dwellars, and their hated rival the Red Sox, the Yankees failed to make the playoffs. This was A-Rod’s first year into his infamous 27 million dollars a year contract, which now stings the Yankees in every deal they try to make.

Joe Torre, who had been at the helm of the Yankees for their 4 world series title in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, was out, replaced by Joe Girardi, who was a catcher on that 1996 team that broke the drought of 15 years without a World Series appearance. Torre took batting coach Don Mattingly with him. Cashman went out and spent big, hauling in big time free agents Mark Texeira and CC Sabbathia. A-Rod started the year out rough. Just 2 years after vehemently denying steroid usage, he admitted that he had used them when he was with Texas from 2001-2003. Those were arguably the best years of his career. A-Rod started the year on the DL, and failed to make the All Star team for the first time since he was a rookie. But when he returned, the Yankees welcomed his power bat back in the lineup. They surged in September as they rolled into the playoffs and cruised into the world series. For the first time in his career, A-Rod was having some sucess in the playoffs. And for this, fans loved him. Just win games Alex, that’s all we want, the fans seemed to say with each cheer as stepped into the box. The Yankees got big help from A-Rod, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettite. Pettite and Matsui were fan favorites. With a little help from Phillies closer Brad Lidge (who was terrible in the series), the Yankees overcame a record 5 series home runs by Chase Utley and dominant pitching from Cliff Lee to secure their 27th World Championship. The Hero? A-Rod.

But it all went downhill from there. A-Rod was okay in 2010, but not what he needed to be. 2011 and 2012 he lost some of his power. He played hurt, and it cost him in a horrific 2012 ALDS in which the Yankees went down with a whimper. You could hear fan’s hearts break when Derek Jeter’s ankle snapped in a way it wasn’t supposed to. A-Rod was benched, pinch hit for. Was this the end for one of the greatest players of the 2000’s?

And just when it couldn’t get any worse, the news came out that he was using PED’s again, and was recruiting others to the Florida based Biogenisis clinic that is located right across from the park that is named after him at the University of Miami. Major League based suspended him an amazing 211 games. It sounds harsh, but there may have been more than a few sighs of relief in the state of New York, as that suspension will save the Yankees millions. A-Rod is appealing the suspension, and it most likely and should be reduced. The standard policy for a first time offender is 50 games, and even with special circumstances (rumors that he was recruting for the clinic), 211 games is astronomical. 75 to 100 sounds more reasonable. A-Rod is the definition of an embattled player right now, but he is hitting .319 with 2 home runs in his return to the Bronx Bombers lineup. Coupled with a surging Alfonso Soriano, (the very player the Yankees traded to get A-Rod), the Yankees are making what might be their last playoff push for 10 years. If A-Rod were to be suspended for 211 games, he would be 40 when he returns. Away from the game for 2 years, at that age, A-Rod would not be able to keep up. Selig was attempting to force him into retirement. Just when it seems that everyone in America hates him, after he has been villified by the press over and over again, the fact that there are still people in his corner became very apparent last night. Ryan Dempster threw way inside to A-Rod 3 times before finally hitting him with the last pitch. The Fenway crowd roared, but many baseball fans over the country shook their heads in disgust. Is A-Rod a cheater? Yes. Is he a bad person? I don’t know, I’m not in his shoes. I can’t judge someone’s decisions without knowing everything they have to deal with. Does he deserve to be suspended? Yes. But he doesn’t deserve to be thrown at 4 times in a row. Dempster had his chance, missed, and kept trying until he plunked him. He should have been tossed. As much as I and many other fans dislike A-Rod for soiling the game, for taking records that don’t deserve to be his, we all felt for him as Dempster continued to take potshots at him. To his credit, A-Rod retaliated in the best way possible: hitting one to dead center straight over the wall. He had some choice words for Dempster, and I don’t blame him.

So where does Alex Rodriguez stand at the end of all this? He is 11 home runs shy of surpassing Wille Mays for 4th All Time on the career home runs list. He won’t pass Bonds anytime soon at his current rate. He won’t be the greatest ballplayer to walk this earth. And maybe he realized that when he took steroids. Maybe he was scared that he wouldn’t be as good as everyone thought he was going to be. He would have been great, he would have been a legend with his god given gifts. But he wouldn’t have been the best, the greatest of all time with his natural talent. So where does he stand? A lier, a cheater, a hated money guzzling dissapointment? Or a great ballplayer that wanted to be more than great, a ballplayer who wanted to be the best there ever was, and made a poor choice? You decide.

A young, pre-steroids Alex Rodriguez, full of potentional. Credit for this image goes to http://www.stevekrupa.com.

A-Rod is rung up yet again in a game against the Orioles. Credit for this image goes to http://www.nydailynews.com

A fan holds up a sign calling for A-Rod to redeem himself for his mistakes. The way to do that? Win ballgames. Credit for the image goes to http://www.mbird.com

A-Rod crushes a home run in his glory days. Credit for the image goes to http://www.nyulocal.com


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