Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez (born July 27, 1975), nicknamed A-Rod, is widely regarded as one of the best players in Major League Baseball today and at a young age is already being talked about among the all-time greats.
Alex was born in New York City and grew up in Miami, Florida and was a star player at Westminster Christian High School. His skills were rewarded when the Seattle Mariners made the 17-year old Rodriguez the #1 pick of the amateur draft in 1993. He made a rapid rise through the organization and made his major league debut at just 18 years of age, becoming one of the youngest players to appear in a game at shortstop.
After his major league campaign in 1994 was cut short by the players' strike, he split most of 1995 between Seattle and their AAA club 30 miles away in Tacoma before staying on the major league roster in August, making a pair of postseason appearances on the Mariners' playoff run. His most important contribution in the playoffs was consoling second baseman Joey Cora, who memorably broke down in tears after the Mariners' loss in the League Championship Series.
He took over as the regular shortstop the following year, and immediately became a superstar, hitting 36 home runs and pacing the American League with a .358 batting average, and leading the league in runs, total bases, and doubles; great numbers even by the standards of the Kingdome, one of the American League's best hitter's parks. He came close to being the youngest MVP in baseball history, but fell 3 points short to Juan Gonzalez; possibly denying him this honour were the two Seattle-area sportswriters who voted for the award, as they gave him 8th and 9th place votes.
A-Rod, as he's come to be known, was an instant favorite among Mariner fans. He hit for the cycle with them in 1997, but slumped that year with only 23 home runs and a "mere" .300 average; the Mariners nonetheless won the division but were quickly eliminated from the playoffs. He recovered with authority in 1998 by becoming the 3rd member of the 40 homers/40 stolen bases club, racking up 42 HR and 46 SB. Despite missing 30+ games with an injury and playing home games at Safeco Field (a considerably less hitter friendly ballpark than the Kingdome) for the second half of the season, he matched his HR total in 1999.
The Mariners entered 2000 with A-Rod as the cornerstone of the franchise, having dealt superstars Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey, Jr in the past two seasons. A-Rod continued to put up great numbers as the team's remaining superstar, and hit 41 more HR's in 2000 as he hit .316, doing so playing in the best pitcher's park in the AL. Winning the AL West in 2000, A-Rod hit well in the playoffs, but the Mariners lost to the World Series champion New York Yankees in the LCS. He still made an appearance in the Series, sitting in the stands of Shea Stadium watching his friend Derek Jeter play in that year's all-New York World Series between the Yankees and New York Mets.
A free agent after the season, Rodriguez who wanted to go to a Series-calibre team, immediately became rumoured to be heading to the Mets because of his appearance, but instead chose to go to the Texas Rangers (last in their division in 2000), signing what is the largest contract in American sports history, a 10 year contract worth an astounding $252 million. Because of the contract, considered outrageous by many fans, Mariner fans that loved him immediately turned on him for taking the money and running instead of staying with a winner; to this day he's regularly booed every time he returns to the Pacific Northwest.
Despite the enormous pressure carried by the contract, Rodriguez has continued to produce, and has been even better than before. He hit 52 home runs in 2001, and followed that up with a major league best 57 home runs in 2002, the most ever for a shortstop. He put a bookend on that year by winning his first Gold Glove. Unfortunately, the Rangers have not made any improvements in the two years he's played there, finishing last both times, and it likely cost him the MVP award in 2002, as he finished second to fellow shortstop Miguel Tejada despite Tejada having lesser numbers, but played for a championship-caliber team. The Mariners didn't miss him, they won 116 games in his first year without him.
At just 28 years of age, A-Rod is already being talked about by some as the greatest shortstop in major league history. He is also showing the potential to break the all-time major league home run record, as in 2003 he became the youngest player in major league history to reach 300 HR's.
November 17, 2003 Rodriguez received the American League Most Valuable Player award, his first ever. It was the second time in MLB history that a player of a team finishing last in the league was given the award.