One of the Greatest Ever to Wear the Uniform

Occasionally, starting today, it will be a pleasure to share with you my thoughts on the subjects that will be presented on my new podcast called “Stockton!”
You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.StocktonPodcast.com.

This week it’s about Alex Rodriguez, who last fall retired from the Yankees after a 22-year career with phenomenal numbers. But as we all know, A-Rod in many ways was a polarizing figure because of his behavior regarding the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Most of the criticism came from the media for his denial and then admission to using steroids, saying he used them when he played for the Texas Rangers during the 2001 to 2003 seasons. The story made huge headlines when in 2013, recovering from a hip injury, he feuded with Yankees management over his rehabilitation and for allegedly obtaining PEDs as part of the Biogenesis baseball scandal.

He was suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball in August 2013 for his involvement in the scandal but played while appealing the punishment. An arbitration hearing reduced the suspension to 162 games, and he did not play during the 2014 season.

He returned the following year and ultimately issued a handwritten letter of apology to MLB, the Yankees, the Players Association and the fans. He led the team in several categories including home runs and reached 30+ homers for the 15th time in his career, tying Hank Aaron for the most 30-home-run seasons in history.

Rodriguez’s performance and appearances dwindled last season. In mid-August, he announced he would play his final game and would join the Yankees’ front office as a special advisor. The club gave him a send-off that resulted in a tremendous ovation from the fans.

That’s the background on A-Rod, who, under any circumstances, has to be considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His numbers are staggering. You can look them up. They are phenomenal.

I have known A-Rod from occasional times our paths have crossed, but I was curious to talk with him now that the dust has cleared on his controversial time in the game.

I don’t know what goes through the mind of a truly great athlete who falters as Rodriguez did. But I do know if a person is genuine and sincere from 50 years of covering all sports and meeting all kinds of athletes, coaches and owners.

I would put my money on this man, who opened up and told me that during the time of his suspension two things stood out. One was admitting to his two daughters that their father had made mistakes. The other was that he felt he transformed from perhaps a selfish, self-centered player concerned with his statistics to a man who embraced the team aspect of his life, being content with being a cog in an overall successful operation.

The past two years, particularly in the 2016 post season, he was impressive as a member of the Fox playoff studio show, appearing natural and informative, especially during the wonderful World Series between the Cubs and Indians.

When I asked him about his success in that role, he quickly deferred, instead discussing how all the panelists contributed and helped him do his job.

That alone, of course, did not convince me he was a “new man,” but I did come to believe that A-Rod was determined to learn from his mistakes and take on a new role as a more mature person going forward.

As he put it, “I feel I am still rounding first base”.

The next question surrounding Rodriguez is about the Hall of Fame. He said he would be lying if he said it didn’t mean a lot. We all know those players from the steroid era who have been considered outcasts regarding election into the Hall. I am aware that breaking the rules is breaking the rules. Maybe there should be a recognition of those many great players who made the wrong decision, especially those who never really needed to go that route. Perhaps a plaque that would indicate his steroid use might be the way to go.

What I do know is that the 22-year baseball career of Alex Rodriguez was a brilliant one. Whatever he did for whatever time he did it that affected his play, he was one of the greatest baseball players ever to put on a major-league uniform. He should be honored for that.

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