Alex Rodriguez signed two record-setting contracts totalling more than US$500 million as the man who would become baseball’s clean Home Run King.
Now the future and legacy of the fading Yankees slugger known as A-Rod has been shredded after the 38-year-old became the latest sports star shot down in doping disgrace.
His pursuit of Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader convicted of obstruction of justice in a federal case stemming from a doping scheme, had once been seen as a holy quest for the golden boy who burst into the major leagues at age 18.
That chase was tarnished by an admission in 2009 that Rodriguez had used steroids earlier in his career, and with Monday’s announcement of his record-long suspension, he becomes the new face of cheating in baseball.
It was all supposed to be so different for Rodriguez, who is fifth on MLB’s all-time home run list with 647, 115 behind leader Bonds, and 155 home runs ahead of the next nearest active player, Albert Pujols.
A 14-time All-Star and three-time MVP winner, Rodriguez had been fit for any conversation on baseball’s greatest players, but now his career is lumped in with others from the steroids era, including Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Rodriguez, a lightning rod for media attention who has been romantically linked to actresses Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson and pop star Madonna, and who has cashed nearly US$350 million in MLB paychecks, rose from humble origins.
Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez was born in New York City to Dominican parents in a Latino neighborhood of the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.
The youngest of three children born to Victor Rodriguez and Lourdes Navarro, Rodriguez came by his passion for the game from his father, a former professional catcher in the Dominican Republic.
His family moved back to the Dominican Republic when he was four, then to Miami when he was a fifth-grader. Victor and Lourdes separated, leaving Lourdes to raise the family.
Rodriguez grew into a remarkable athlete, winning the national high school baseball title at Miami’s Westminster Christian High School. He was recruited to play both shortstop and quarterback for the University of Miami, with whom he signed a letter of intent to attend.
However, the lure of the major leagues and a US$1.3 million contract to sign with the Seattle Mariners as the No. 1 overall pick of the 1993 amateur draft put A-Rod on a fast-track to stardom.
He made his MLB debut as an 18-year-old in 1994 as the youngest player in the majors and after another partial season was installed as starting shortstop for Seattle in 1996.
Rodriguez responded with a sensational season, leading the American League in hitting with a .358 batting average. He added 36 home runs and 123 runs batted in that season, off-the-chart numbers for the young shortstop.
Two more All-Star seasons followed, in 1997 and in 1998, when he hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases to become just the third member of the 40-40 club, after Jose Canseco (1988) and Bonds (1996), with only Alfonso Soriano joining them later (2008).
Thanks to his early start in the majors, Rodriguez achieved free agency at the tender age of 24 and he signed a record 10-year, US$252 million contract in 2001 to play for the Texas Rangers.
Rodriguez put up monster numbers, clouting 52 home runs in 2001 and 57 in 2002 and won the AL Most Valuable Player award in 2003.