Drug suspension will define A-Rod’s career

NEW YORK (AP) - On the day Alex Rodriguez was the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft two decades ago, his high school coach predicted a flashy future.

“He has a great work ethic, humility, confidence,” Rich Hofman said. “He’ll be an example for Seattle and Major League Baseball. I hope success will not spoil that.”

Three MVP awards, 14 All-Star selections, two record-setting contracts and countless controversies later, A-Rod has become baseball’s marked man, the biggest and wealthiest target of an investigation into performance-enhancing drugs that’s likely to culminate with a lengthy suspension Monday.

Instead of following the record-setting paths of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, Rodriguez even faces the outside chance he could wind up in permanent baseball exile along with Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

When Rodriguez first admitted in 2009 that he had used PEDs, he apologized repeatedly and called himself “young and stupid” three times.

“I’m in a position where I have to earn my trust back,” he told a news conference at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., back then. “The only thing I ask from this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward. That’s all I can ask for.”

Now 38, his rise and fall is water-cooler discussion across America.

Monday’s decision by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will define A-Rod’s career, overshadowing his 647 home runs, his repeated postseason failures, his October of triumph in 2009 with the New York Yankees, even his romances with Madonna, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Torrie Wilson.

And it’s not as if he is lacking in labels.

Teammates call him “A-Fraud” behind his back, according to a book by former manager Joe Torre.

Fans at ballparks hold up signs deriding him as “A-Roid” and “Cheater.”

Throughout Rodriguez’s 19 major league seasons, teammates have repeatedly praised his work ethic. He’s the first player on the spring-training fields after daybreak, taking extra grounders, perfecting his craft.

At the same time they roll their eyes at his behavior, which is said to border on obsessive narcissism. He dresses in the back rooms of the clubhouse and emerges only when every hair is perfectly in place for the cameras and the collar of his leather jacket drapes just so.

Has any other athlete been photographed kissing his reflection in a mirror, as A-Rod was by Details magazine in 2009?

He didn’t protest when he was photographed with a stripper at a Toronto hotel or reported to be at a swingers’ club in Dallas and at an illegal poker club in New York.

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