Given that I was born in 2000, Alex Rodríguez permeates every single one of my childhood Yankees memories. I remember seeing him at my first live game, a Yankees-Red Sox bout in ‘04, though I was admittedly more invested in the “caveman” on the opposing squad (a bearded and long-haired Johnny Damon). I remember when he opted out of his deal in ‘07, costing the Yankees millions in salary that Texas would have remained on the hook for; I threw my A-Rod shirt in the trash, only to dig it back out when he re-signed. I remember hating him when he admitted to using PEDs in ‘09, especially since his performance and image began to decline thereafter, culminating in a year-long suspension in 2014. But I also remember watching with glee as he orchestrated a comeback season for the ages in 2015.
2015 Statistics: 151 games, 620 plate appearances, 131 hits, 33 home runs, 86 RBIs, 83 runs, 22 doubles, .250/.356/.486 triple slash, 129 wRC+, 129 OPS+, 2.7 fWAR, 3.0 bWAR
Technically a native New Yorker, A-Rod was born in 1975. His parents, Dominican immigrants who owned a neighborhood shoe store, resided in Washington Heights, just across the river from Yankee Stadium. But the Rodríguez family returned to their home country when Alex was just four. There, they owned a pharmacy and had Alex attend an American school where the baseball coach took him under his wing, instigating Alex’s love for the game. When he was nine, they moved back to the states, this time calling Miami home. In Florida, Alex parlayed his baseball (and football) acumen into a scholarship at a private Christian high school.
He thrived, hitting over .500 his senior year, and was named the best high school baseball player in the country. Not long after he graduated in 1993, the Mariners took him first overall.
For such a young prospect, Alex tore up the minor leagues, debuting in the majors just over a year after he was drafted. He became the first 18-year-old position player to debut since Brian Milner in 1978 and the first 18-year-old period since 1984. No greener player has debuted since.
Though the young slugger only played in 65 major league games and limped to a 54 wRC+ across his age-18 and -19 seasons, he broke out as a 20-year-old in 1996 to the tune of a 36 homer, 159 wRC+, 9.2 fWAR/9.4 bWAR season. By bWAR, it was second only to Mike Trout’s 2012 season as the best for any player 20 or younger. By OPS+, it was sixth-best (min. 500 plate appearances). That year, he also earned his first All-Star nod, Silver Slugger, and MVP votes.
Thus began one of the most dominant stretches by any player in baseball history. From 1997-2012, across stints in Seattle, Texas, and New York, A-Rod would go on to hit 606 more homers, accrue 102.9 more fWAR, and bash opposing pitchers to the tune of a 145 wRC+. During that time, he would earn 13 more All-Star appearances, nine more Silver Sluggers, three MVPs (in addition to 10 more down-ballot finishes), and two Gold Gloves.
Though the run ended especially unceremoniously, as A-Rod fought a major injury and a PED suspension (by appealing) in 2013, his early-career excellence wasn’t without controversy either. Despite a highly-publicized 60 Minutes interview in 2007 during which he categorically denied ever having used steroids, he admitted to using them from 2001-03 on the heels of a bombshell Sports Illustrated report in 2009. What’s more, the initial 2007 interview came shortly after A-Rod’s agent, Scott Boras, contentiously announced during the World Series that the slugger would not be returning to the Yankees — though he eventually did. Lastly, his relationship with Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter was famously fraught even before either of these events, as A-Rod provided a scathing take on Jeter’s ability to lead in a 2001 interview.
Due to the Sports Illustrated report and major hip surgery, A-Rod’s 2009 didn’t get off to a great start, and he finished with his second-worst full-season fWAR total to date, a total he would never again top. He had another hip surgery during the 2011 season and a third prior to the 2013 season. It was during his recovery from the latter procedure that the Biogenesis news dropped.
Eventually, he was suspended for the entire 2014 season. He testified in court that he used PEDs again beginning in 2010 and offered an apology to baseball fans that signified a man at peace with what his career and legacy had come to. In retrospect, perhaps this was the first sign he was ready to bounce back on the field the next year. However, many remained skeptical that a 39-year-old with thrice-repaired hips would be productive. Whether the former MVP experienced some Biogenesis-fueled anti-aging (the clinic’s supposed original purpose) or turned a corner mentally, the result was a truly remarkable comeback.
Not only did that year come with a homer off of Justin Verlander for the slugger’s 3,000th career hit, 2,004th career RBI, and 667th career round-tripper, but it was also one of the best offensive seasons for a player that age ever.
A-Rod’s .486 slugging percentage ranked 18th and his 129 OPS+ ranked 19th among players 39 or older with at least 500 plate appearances in a season, though (in part due to the help of the DH) A-Rod actually strode to the plate 620 times, the 27th-highest total for a player that age. He also appeared in 151 games, which was tied for 15th. His 33 homers that year placed him sixth (no plate appearance caveats this time), his 84 walks 13th, his 254 total bases 16th, and his 86 RBIs tied for 18th.
A-Rod slotted in nicely at DH for a competitive Yankees team that led the AL East for a large part of the year (Mark Teixeira had a good comeback season as well). He was never better than on July 25th, when he clobbered three homers against — who else — the Twins as part of a big comeback win in Minnesota.
As the season wore on, both A-Rod and the Yankees unfortunately began to tire. The former only mustered a .678 OPS after the calendar flipped to August, and the surging Blue Jays snatched first place away from New York. The Yankees played 29-31 ball from August onward and got bounced by the soon-to-be-loathed Astros at Yankee Stadium in the Wild Card Game, ending an otherwise-fun year with an anticlimax.
Sadly (or not; think what you will of the defamed slugger), the A-Rod of the final two months was the one who turned up in 2016. Dealing with a hamstring injury early on in his age-40 season, A-Rod couldn’t get it going upon returning. On August 7th, he announced that his final game would be five days later on the 12th. For all of the angst that he caused me, I was ecstatic when I found out that my friend had beaten the price surge by purchasing tickets to that game as soon as the announcement aired. I eagerly accepted the ticket he offered me, and I will readily admit that when the Yankees brought A-Rod out onto the field in the ninth, his first defensive action all year, the roar from the crowd brought tears to my eyes.
For all his ups and downs, his larger-than-lifeness had kept him from being human to me until then. But in that moment, he was just a kid playing a game again. And though I knew it was time for him to hang up his spikes, I wished that I could relive his career, especially his magical 2015 year, from the start.