This article is a part of the Take Notice Column. This column serves to bring the attention of the reader to a new, unique, and / or radical point of view from the author. To view other Take Notice pieces, click here.
Say the name Alex Rodriguez and one of two images will pop into your head. One is the young, smiling shortstop wearing Mariners colors. The other is the aged, defeated looking designated hitter in Yankee pinstripes.
While the person in both pictures is the same, the player in the images differs. One picture shows a player on the verge of beginning a career that rivals the all-time greats. The other picture shows a player who has endured nineteen years of criticism and ridicule.
Despite all his success, Rodriguez would transform from the player in the first picture to the player in the second picture. He would transform from a wide-eyed teenager into the enigma that is modern day ‘A-Rod’.
How did that happen? How did a player so loved by so many fans, one that captivated audiences even in opposing ballparks, grow into one of the most despised figures in all of sports? Does he really deserve all the hate that gets tossed his way?
Well it’s actually rather easy to trace the steps that Rodriguez took and to see why he became a player that fans love to hate.
Athletes that are hated tend to share characteristics that fans dislike. Usually it’s their attitude or sportsmanship. Other times it’s their cockiness and demeanor. Sometimes it’s because they make too much money.
And above all, athletes receive hate because of their success.
For Alex Rodriguez, it’s a combination of those attributes. Plus he did this to Bronson Arroyo in the playoffs (that’s got to be against the rules).
Let’s start with the winter of 2000, where the first seeds of hate were planted. Rodriguez was coming off a third consecutive campaign with forty or more home runs. He was just twenty-four years old, but already shaping into the face of the Mariners franchise. But just as Ken Griffey Jr. had done after the 1999 season, Rodriguez decided to test the free agent waters. And just like Griffey Jr., A-Rod decided to leave Seattle. (Side note: Could you imagine if Griffey Jr. and Rodriguez had stayed in Seattle a few more years to be a part of the 2001 team with Ichiro???)
Being available on the open market at such a young age is unheard of. Being one of the best talents in the game and available on the open market at that age in darn-near incomprehensible. Rodriguez had his best years ahead of him and teams were bidding on him with that in mind. Think if Mike Trout had been eligible for free agency this past winter and the flurry of contracts that would have ensued.
Rodriguez was putting up statistics that general managers across the league were drooling over, especially from such a young player. Along with those numbers, however, was going to come a big salary (thanks, Scott Boras). Only Texas could open up the pocketbook enough to lure in Rodriguez.
This article provides a lot of insight as far as which teams were competing for Rodriguez in free agency. He was far into negotiations with Seattle, so this wasn’t a scenario where Rodriguez was walking away completely cutting ties with an organization. His talent level meant that someone was going to fork over some big bucks. And so what if he did sign for the money? Can you blame the twenty-four year old? If he wanted to win a championship he would have plenty of years ahead of him to go pennant chasing.
Nonetheless, the first fans turned against A-Rod. Seattle fans believed he left the team simply to get paid, which is a big no-no when it comes to fan approval.
So he traded in the Mariners cap for a Rangers one, and along with that, he received what at the time was the largest contract in Major League history. Fitting that the biggest name in baseball signed the biggest contract in baseball with Texas.
Fans angered by Rodriguez’s Seattle departure in 2001 were thrilled to see his absence from the playoffs. Their hate for A-Rod was only growing.
After three losing seasons in Arlington, the Rangers were able to dump Rodriguez’s steep contract off to the Yankees, an organization that had no issues writing his checks (although I bet they aren’t thrilled to still be writing his checks).
Anytime a player joins the Yankees, half of baseball freaks out because they think they are the Evil Empire. A lot of people hate the Yankees, so naturally, they hate any player that joins the Yankees. Maybe that wasn’t fair to A-Rod because he didn’t sign with them out of free agency; but he waived his no-trade clause in order to join New York, so he did essentially choose New York.
By the conclusion of the 2007 season, A-Rod had put up jaw-dropping numbers each year since coming to New York, racking up multiple All-Star appearances and two more MVP awards. But the $252 million deal Rodriguez had agreed upon with Texas years earlier wasn’t cutting it for Rodriguez in the Bronx, who at this point was unquestionably baseball’s top player.
Rodriguez opted out of the deal he signed back in 2004 to get more money from the Yankees’ deep pockets. Approaching his age thirty-two season, A-Rod agreed to a ten year, $275 million deal, breaking his own record for largest contract.
Queue the A-Rod haters going berserk.
Not only did he already have the biggest contract in MLB history, but he opted out of that contract for even MORE money. Sure, he was coming off an MVP season with fifty-four home runs and one of the best triple slashes of the decade, but that success was all the more reason for people to hate him. Whether it was the money or the success, fans that hadn’t hated him previously were starting to turn on him.
If there was a guy that deserved the most money in baseball, he was the guy. Sure, it was a little over the top to opt out, but it’s not like he wasn’t deserving. How can you be mad at the best player in baseball getting the biggest contract? To me, that seems logical. From an organizational standpoint, the Yankees were simply locking up their MVP for another decade. It seemed like a great move because A-Rod had been the model of consistency. Unfortunately for the Yanks, that consistency would only last for a couple more seasons and we can see now it didn’t quite pay off.
Surprisingly, A-Rod’s contract renegotiation wasn’t the largest bone fans had to pick with him.
Rodriguez was not named in the report and even appeared on 60 Minutes to do an interview with Katie Couric where he denied any use of steroids, human growth hormone, or any other form of performance enhancing drugs.
Again, he was not named in the report, but that Mitchell Report interview would come back to haunt him and direct the most hatred towards Rodriguez.
Less than two years later, in 2009, it was revealed that Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroid use during the 2003 season with the Rangers.
After years of dismissing the idea that he had used steroids, even going on national television and vehemently denying that he juiced, the facts were out and Rodriguez had some explaining to do. He admitted to using steroids for three years, from 2001 to 2003, in which he received an MVP award, three Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and attended all three All-Star Games.
Fans who stood by A-Rod throughout the steroid controversy could no longer support him. He lost fans after leaving Seattle, he lost fans by opting out and negotiating for more money, and now he lost fans after lying to them.
That was the final step in the A-Rod transformation. He lost the trust of baseball fans across the country. Fans of his own team started to turn on him. He couldn’t go to a visitor’s stadium without receiving a loud chorus of boos or a chant of “A-Roid” each time he grazed the field.
People’s opinions of A-Rod were permanently changed.
But let’s make one thing clear: Rodriguez’s use of anabolic steroids in 2003 was NOT a punishable offense at the time. While Major League Baseball banned steroid use in 1991, random drug testing and penalties for positive tests were not instituted until 2004. The testing done by the MLB in 2003 was used to see the range of drugs that players were actively using so that they could ban those substances moving forward. So what A-Rod did in 2003 was, technically, acceptable.
If A-Rod cheated, then they would have suspended him, plain and simple. The MLB had a positive test associated with him, so yes, he used steroids, but it wasn’t considered cheating by MLB standards. In the eyes of the MLB, he did nothing wrong.
It is understandable to be upset with Rodriguez because he flat out rejected any claim that he used steroids, but you have to understand that he wasn’t doing something that would have gotten him suspended at the time.
After the 2003 test results were made public, Rodriguez’s production started to dwindle. It was minimal at first, but by 2011, his RBI total dropped under 100 for the first time since 1997. After 2010, he never played in more than 89 games in each of his remaining six seasons.
One of those remaining seasons, who could forget, was spent away from the ballpark entirely. Rodriguez was suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season for his part in the Biogenesis scandal.
His involvement in the scandal is rather difficult to defend. Rodriguez obtained PEDs well after rules had been put in place prohibiting the use of steroids. He knew what he was dealing with. He had used steroids before and faced no punishment, but in 2013, he absolutely knew the consequences that were now in place. Rodriguez was desperate to return to his former self and while dealing with injuries, he made a significant mistake on the road to recovery. The silver lining with Biogenesis is that he admitted to it and served his time. He paid the price for cheating and that’s all baseball fans ask for.
And yet it was down to a select few baseball fans who had any respect left for Rodriguez. A second run-in with performance enhancers made it increasingly difficult for many fans to cheer for him.
Today, with A-Rod’s playing days officially over, save perhaps a stint with Miami, many will look back on his career and never be able to appreciate his true greatness. Most fans won’t be able to look past his missteps as a person and recognize his contributions to baseball, which is perfectly understandable.
But I do not believe that Alex Rodriguez deserves the hate.
The main argument against Rodriguez is his steroid use, mainly because he denied it for so long. Those who hold a grudge against A-Rod simply for using PEDs, I encourage you to read this list of 103 players who also tested positive for steroid use back in 2003.
Rodriguez is treated harshly for his positive test while many players on that list include fan favorites, superstars, and potential Hall of Fame candidates who did not have their reputations tarnished by steroid use.
I would argue A-Rod is hardly viewed in the same light as the beloved David Ortiz, who is named on the list above. Or how about Ivan Rodriguez? ‘Pudge’ is going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he was just as guilty as A-Rod back in 2003. How about Adrian Beltre, Kerry Wood, or Bartolo Colon? Do we hate them for their steroid use, too? Last but not least, how about Pedro Martinez? Rodriguez will face endless scrutiny and may never grace the Hall of Fame, but Martinez, who also tested positive, was voted into the Hall of Fame at 91%, first ballot, no less.
So is Alex Rodriguez deserving of all the hate he gets? I say no. He may not be the best clubhouse presence or friendliest guy on the team, but I don’t think that the casual baseball fan should have anything against the guy. With the big money deals he signed, he put up numbers to earn those deals and produced for his team after signing them. He’s shone in a negative light for his steroid use, but over 100 other players tested positive in the same year and aren’t portrayed nearly the way he is.
You can be mad at him for lying and you can be upset with him for the Biogenesis scandal, but weigh his career accomplishments against those two mistakes and then form your opinion of Alex Rodriguez. He may not be the villain he has been made out to be.