I took the above photo in 2002, the second of Alex Rodriguez’s three years with the Texas Rangers, a year he hit 57 home runs and drove in 140-plus RBI. A report came out over the weekend that A-Rod tested positive for steroids in 2003. He admitted to ESPN today that he used steroids for three years while with the Rangers — a team that is now officially the headquarters for steroid use during the “juice era” if you consider Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Ken Caminiti (all admitted steroid users) were all Rangers and more than a dozen other former Rangers (including Juan Gonzalez, Gregg Zaun, Kevin Brown, David Segui and Eric Gagne) were mentioned in an investigation by Major League Baseball on steroid use in the sport.
I was/am a Texas Rangers fan — the heyday came during the mid- to late-90s when the Rangers made the playoffs three times and were whipped by the Yankees every time. By the time 2002 came around, I was a sports writer for a small newspaper east of Dallas, and every now and then I would head to a Rangers or Dallas Cowboys game and cover it or shoot photos.
On the day I took the photo above, A-Rod and the Rangers were playing the Yankees. Joe Torre told me to quit taking photos of his dugout, in fact. I was enamored by A-Rod, though, because he was the biggest thing in baseball at the time. I was thrilled for two reasons during the game — 1) he homered and 2) he hit a foul ball into the photo box that I kept (snuck it out … photographers weren’t supposed to keep memorabilia like a foul ball).
The Rangers weren’t great while he was there, but A-Rod was every bit the best player in baseball, and he had to be. He had to be … or else he’d be hounded daily for his $252 million contract (boo hoo, right?).
The baseball hated A-Rod at the time, because he shunned the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox and other big market teams to take a boatload of money to play for the Rangers. He was booed everywhere, but in Texas, he was a God … despite the fact he barely talked to anybody and was considered a snob by the media there.
Texas fans, though, were proud as hell to have him. This was when the steroid talk started gathering steam, and Rangers fans thought they had the one guy who was doing all of these big things without the aid of needles.
“Thought” is the key word there.
As a Rangers fan, count me in as one of the many who are disappointed. I’m not so high and mighty to say he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame or that this will completely tarnish his career. It’s just the way baseball was, and I’ve now fully come to understand and accept this.
But we all thought A-Rod was different.
Sure, he was a jerk. This is the same guy caught messing around with some blonde in New York and the same guy who, I guess, broke up Madonna’s marriage. He’s the same guy who once yelled at a third baseman to make him drop an infield pop-up.
He’s the same guy that gave the Rangers a big middle finger after three years and went to the Yankees.
But his one saving grace was that despite the attitude, despite the inability to perform in the playoffs and despite desire to take the crown of Mr. Yankee from Derek Jeter — he was doing it all clean. Again, so we thought.
Now, A-Rod is just a jerk who also juiced.
And I’m disappointed. But I’ll get over it soon.
Baseball’s about to start back up, and I’ll cheer my Rangers and Pirates on through April until they are mathematically eliminated. Only this season, I’ll stop making excuses for A-Rod when the opponents’ fans boo him mercilessly.
Hell, I hope the Yankees fans join it.