Alex Rodriguez has had an up-and-down career with Yankees
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The blockbuster of all blockbuster baseball trades took place on Valentine's Day nearly a decade ago, and the details seemed unbelievable to most everyone in the baseball world.
Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees? You're kidding.
When A-Rod himself put on the pinstripes at his introductory news conference a few days later, even he was in awe. With his world spinning, he said he was worried that it was all a dream.
As Rodriguez made the rounds that day, it became clear that this was not your typical welcome to a new Yankees star. Oh, no, it was so much more than that.
Instantly, Rodriguez was crowned Gotham's newest prince. The mayor held a special ceremony for him at City Hall. Fans who called to buy tickets were greeted by his voice. The Yankees seemingly couldn't produce shirts with Rodriguez's name on them quickly enough to meet the demand.
Heck, on his first day in spring training later that week, even A-Rod ducked into the team store with his family to buy some mementos for their own house.
The marriage between baseball's best team and its best player seemed almost too perfect. And perhaps it was.
Because given the benefit of time and perspective, everyone has learned that when it comes to A-Rod and the Yankees, nothing ever came as easy as saying hello.
Almost immediately, Rodriguez's much-ballyhooed Yankees career was off to a rocky start.
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre wrote in "The Yankee Years" that the acquisition of Rodriguez almost instantly changed the feel of the Yankees' clubhouse that 2004 season because "Alex monopolized all the attention . . . We never really had anybody who craved the attention." Torre wrote that Rodriguez's teammates referred to him as "A-Fraud" behind his back.
Rodriguez's struggle to fit in with his new teammates was at least in some ways affected by his personal relationship with Derek Jeter. They had been close friends, but their relationship had cooled considerably after Rodriguez made critical remarks about Jeter in a magazine article after he signed his record 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers in December 2000.
Both players insisted their relationship was a non-issue, that they had resolved their differences in the years since, but Torre and other teammates have since said there was constant tension in the clubhouse, especially that first season.
A-Rod also admittedly felt pressure to prove his worth to the Yankees on the field, which negatively affected his ability to perform the way he had in the past, especially in high-pressure moments.
In that 2004 postseason, A-Rod's first in pinstripes, the Yankees became the first (and still only) team in baseball history to lose a best-of-seven series after leading three games to none. That it came at the hands of the Boston Red Sox only added to the embarrassment.
Rodriguez became a poster boy for the Yankees' collapse, going 2-for-17 in the four consecutive losses to Boston. That started a trend of postseason struggles that haunted Rodriguez for years.
His MVP season in 2005 was remembered for his 2-for-15 performance in a Division Series loss to the Angels, after which he famously said, "I played like a dog the last five days."
And it got worse the next year. Rodriguez's struggles against Detroit in a 2006 Division Series led Torre to do what to this day seems unthinkable -- he dropped Rodriguez, easily the Yankees' most talented hitter, to eighth in the lineup. In an elimination game, no less.
Booed by Yankees fans throughout much of the 2006 season for his perceived failure to come through in clutch situations, Rodriguez vowed in 2007 to have tunnel vision.
No more would he care about people talking about whether he was "a true Yankee" or concern himself with his many mentions on the gossip pages of the city tabloids. His focus was on baseball, he said, and whatever he did, it worked.
Rodriguez posted perhaps his best season as a major-leaguer, hitting 54 home runs, driving in 156 runs and hitting .314 with a .422 on-base percentage and .645 slugging percentage. He hit his 500th career home run that year and received a warm response from teammates and fans.
But there wasn't much time to celebrate his personal success. Rodriguez decided to opt out of the remaining three years of his contract to become a free agent, with the news breaking toward the end of Game 4 of the Red Sox's World Series sweep of the Rockies, 10 days before the deadline to do so.
A-Rod's opt-out -- which cost the Yankees a $21-million subsidy from the Rangers as part of the 2004 trade -- set the stage for one of the more bizarre free-agent negotiations in Yankees history.
General manager Brian Cashman had been adamant all season that if A-Rod opted out, the Yankees would bid him goodbye. By then, George Steinbrenner's health was declining and sons Hank and Hal were taking a bigger role in the club's day-to-day operations -- and they said they supported Cashman's stance.
But Rodriguez soon regretted his decision to opt out and reached out to the Steinbrenners through a Goldman Sachs executive. Soon they were putting the finishing touches on a new 10-year deal worth $275 million, with additional incentives to go along with his expected pursuit of the home run record.
Hank Steinbrenner, who spearheaded the deal, told Newsday then that they had reversed course and given A-Rod a new contract with a raise because he felt it was under market value.
"He's willing to make sacrifices to be a Yankee," Hank said. "Basically, that's it in a nutshell."
'I knew we weren't
Sports Illustrated reported in February 2009 that Rodriguez was among the 104 players who failed baseball's anonymous survey test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
A few days later, Rodriguez admitted in a televised interview on ESPN that he took performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-03. Then, in a news conference on his first day at spring training, Rodriguez went into greater detail, saying his use was orchestrated by a cousin who picked up the drug called "Boli" in the Dominican Republic and brought it to Rodriguez in the United States.
Weeks later, Rodriguez learned he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip. He was sidelined until early May. The time away proved cathartic, A-Rod said, because he suddenly was faced with thoughts that his baseball career might be over, and it made him realize how much he valued it.
Surprisingly, Rodriguez came back as a productive player, hitting a three-run homer against the Orioles on the first pitch of his first at-bat of the season, finishing with 30 home runs in 124 games and then, finally, breaking loose of the postseason failure label. He hit .365 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 15 games, leading the Yankees to their first World Series title since 2000.
In a year that started out as negatively as possible, suddenly all seemed right in A-Rod's world.
Rodriguez continued to succeed in 2010, hitting at least 30 home runs and driving in at least 100 runs for the 13th consecutive season, a major-league record.
He also hit his 600th career home run that season, and the positive fan reaction might have indicated that the steroid cloud was behind him for good.
Injuries started taking its toll on Rodriguez during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but when he was on the field, he remained an adequate run-producer. That changed, though, in the 2012 postseason when Rodriguez suddenly couldn't hit righthanded pitching. He went 3-for-25 against Baltimore and Detroit and was even pinch hit for and benched by manager Joe Girardi.
After the season, Rodriguez learned he needed surgery on his other hip, which he called a bit of a relief because he said it helped to explain his sudden offensive struggles.
Still, the worst news was yet to come.
The Miami New Times, a weekly newspaper in his hometown, reported in January 2013 that Rodriguez received performance-enhancing drugs from the now-defunct anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis, and Major League Baseball soon began its investigation.
Rodriguez denied his involvement, and on Opening Day, he said he expected the situation to work itself out. "At some point," he said, "I feel that everything will be good."
But what followed was anything but good for anyone involved. By the time Major League Baseball announced its unprecedented 211-game suspension for Rodriguez in early August, he already was engaged in a public feud with the Yankees. The suspension was reduced on Saturday to 162 games and the 2014 postseason.
It was an ugly chapter dominated by a constant back-and-forth of public barbs, off-the-record media leaks and civil lawsuits between A-Rod and MLB, commissioner Bud Selig and Rodriguez's Yankees bosses.
Having appealed his suspension, Rodriguez made it back on the field for the final two months, hitting .244 with seven home runs in 156 at-bats in 44 games. The Yankees did not make the postseason for only the second time in the last 19 seasons.
On the 11th day of his arbitration hearing in Manhattan, Rodriguez stormed out, furious that Selig did not have to testify. In an interview with WFAN's Mike Francesa that aired live on the Yankees' television network, Rodriguez said he didn't trust his team or the league.
"The bottom line," he said, "is I've worked for 20 years, I've dedicated more than half of my life to baseball. Whether you like me or not, what's wrong is wrong, and the system is wrong."