July 9, 1994. It was the top of the fourth inning as the Seattle Mariners were playing the Boston Red Sox at the historic Fenway Park. An-18 year-old rookie by the name of Alex Rodriguez was at the plate, in just his second career game. He hit a soft grounder to the third base side off a pitch from Sergio Valdez. The speedy Rodriguez narrowly beat out the throw at first. Amidst a chorus of boos (the fans thought he was out), that would be his first career hit.
Fast forward 21 years to June 19, 2015 at Yankee Stadium. Rodriguez was up to the plate, with Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander in the mound. First pitch of the at bat, Rodriguez crushed to right field. It was gone, good for hit number 3000 in grand fashion.
A-Rod is just the 29th member of the 3000 hit club in MLB history, the second to do so as a Yankee. The other was Derek Jeter.
Unlike Jeter though, their was no standing ovation for Rodriguez from the opposing team. No major countdown or excitement across the league. No huge merchandise sales on the MLB Shop homepage.
Still, 3000 hits is quite the impressive feat. The way Rodriguez reached the mark may even be more impressive.
Rodriguez came into the league with much fanfare around him. The Floridian was drafted first overall by the rebuilding Seattle Mariners in the 1993 MLB draft. He was the ultimate five tool player, capable of being a gold glove shortstop and silver slugger batter.
After tearing up the Minor leagues, Rodriguez made his major league debut on July 8, 1994. At 18 years of age he was the third youngest player to debut in MLB history, and the expectations for him were sky high. His rookie campaign was cut short by the MLB players strike of ’94, limiting Rodriguez to just 17 games. He did struggle a bit in those games, going 11-54 (.204) with 0 home runs. He then split time between the Majors and Minors again in 1995, hitting .232 with 5 homers and 19 RBI in 48 games for the M’s.
A-Rod really took the league by storm in 1996, his first season as a full time staring shortstop. He went on to rack up 215 hits for a league leading .358 average, with 36 home runs and 123 RBI. The records he held were unbelievable as well. At 21 years and one month, he was the third youngest AL batting leader ever behind Al Kaline (20) in 1955 and Ty Cobb (20) in 1907, and the third youngest player in history with 35+ homers. He was also the first major league SS to win a batting title since 1960, and the 1st in the American League since 1944, and at 20 years, 11 months, was the youngest SS in All-Star Game history, as he backed up Cal Ripken at the position. He also led the AL in runs (141), total bases (379), and doubles (54) and ranked among the league leaders in base hits (2nd, 215), extra base hits (2nd, 91), multi-hit games (3rd, 65), slugging (4th, .631), RBI (8th, 123), and on-base percentage (8th, .414).
This would become the norm for Rodriguez in Seattle too. In seven seasons as a Mariner, he compiled 966 hits for a .309 BA, 189 home runs, 595 RBI, and four all star game appearances. He quickly was becoming one of the most beloved athletes in the game, and he was considered one of the three best shortstops in the league alongside Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter.
His reputation began to rapidly change after the 2000 season though. The small market Mariners were fresh off an ALCS berth in which they pushed the New York Yankees team in the midst of a dynasty to the brink, losing in six games. Rodriguez couldn’t iron out a contract with Seattle, leading him to testing free agency. He would ultimately leave for the last place Texas Rangers, signing a 10-year, $252 million deal.
This would be yet another blow to the Seattle Mariners fans, who saw both Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. depart the year prior. The massive contract he took also painted Rodriguez in a poor light. The Texas Rangers were, simply put, a bad team and Rodriguez leaving a contender for them made him appear as a greedy player in it for the money. Whether or not that is true is debatable, but signing the largest contract in MLB history to leave Seattle wasn’t perceived as a good move by the fans, aside from Ranger fans.
While the Rangers-Rodriguez partnership didn’t produce a single postseason performance, Rodriguez himself put up three of the greatest offensive seasons in MLB history. He hit 156 home runs and 395 RBI while batting .305, compiling another 569 hits.
Through 10 seasons on his career, his numbers were absolutely mind boggling. He already had 345 home runs, 1,535 hits, 1,009 runs, and 990 RBI. He still was only 28, and would have many years of his prime left to continue to cement his legacy as one of the greatest of all time.
After just three seasons, the Rangers were already looking to trade Rodriguez. They couldn’t be competitive and improve their roster with his massive contract holding the team down, so before the 2004 season they swung a deal to trade him to the Boston Red Sox.
The trade was quickly vetoed by the league though, due to an illegal salary reduction agreement that Rodriguez and the Red Sox agreed with.
Naturally, the heavy spending New York Yankees went ahead and made the next deal to block their rival Red Sox from acquiring him. They sent away Alfonso Soriano and a minor league prospect package to Texas to acquire the superstar to convert to third base and replace the injured Aaron Boone.
As expected, #13 picked up right where he left off. He had yet another 30-100 season in 2004, and won his second MVP in 2005, hitting .321 with 48 homers and 130 RBI.
After the 2007 season though, Rodriguez began to run into major trouble. He had arguably his best season that year by smashing 54 homers for 156 RBI’s, but his off the field situation was less then desirable.
His agent Scott Boras and him were becoming villains of the MLB. Rodriguez had stated multiple times he wanted to remain a Yankee for the remainder of his career, but then during Game 4 of the World Series, Boras had announced that Rodriguez would be opting out of the largest contract in MLB history due to “uncertainty” of what the Yankees would look like in the future.
He was bashed by fans and critics alike. He had opted out without meeting the Yankees front office, and did it in the middle of the World Series. But things would get worse two seasons later after signing another monster 10-year, $275 million deal
The highly controversial “Mitchell Report” was released to the public, listing over 100 professional players who had tested positive for PED’s. Rodriguez was reportedly listed, and with so many other home run stars such Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa all under scrutiny for PED use, many were assuming Rodriguez would be the next domino to fall. And they were correct, as he admitted this to the public two days later, using them from 2001-2003
He proclaimed his innocence on 60 minutes with Katie Couric, flat out denying any connections to PED’s just a year prior. That turned out to be a massive mistake, as he was now labeled a liar and cheater.
His on the field play during the playoffs was also under fire. He was a career .247 hitter with the Yankees in the playoffs, failing to appear in a World Series.
In 2009 though, he was able to dispel a lot of the negativity. After hitting another 30 long balls in the regular season, A-Rod was instrumental in the teams postseason run. He hit .365 with 6 home runs and 18 RBI, culminating in a World Series Championship. His reputation was slowly rising again, but yet again, his career would take a turn for the worse.
His play began to decline in 2010, hitting a career low .270, and hitting .235 in the postseason. He then had to battle injury woes the next three seasons, missing a combined 221 games. Him and the Yanks front office also reportedly had multiple skirmishes on the handling of his injury and the treatment behind it. This would directly led to his involvement in the Biogensis Scandal, completely ruining his reputation. He had been linked to a steroid scandal from 2010-2012.
He would be suspended the entire 2014 after a highly publicized and messy legal battle with Baseball, in which he sued the league, his team, his doctors, and ultimately ended up with a plethora of unpaid legal fees. His reputation was forever tarnished, but Rodriguez himself still insisted on a comeback. Most doubted him being an effective player, as he will be turning 40 this July, is coming off major hip surgery, and was out of the league for a year.
And that brings us to Rodriguez today. He has defied all odds, currently posting a .281 average with 14 home runs and 40 RBI.
While many things didn’t remain consistent throughout Rodriguez’s career, his bat was one of the few that did. He’s going to be linked to PED’s for the remainder of his career and even after as he enters the Hall of Fame ballot, but his success is still unparalleled. He’s in a class of his own when it comes to his power numbers, his average, and his speed.
And to be fair to Rodriguez, steroids simply won’t help you when it comes to getting hits. It’ll strengthen power numbers, but steroids won’t give you pitch recognition skills, or the hand eye coordination that Rodriguez has.
So while his 3,000 hits are still slightly tainted, they’re still something to celebrate.