NEW YORK » Alex Rodriguez’s corner locker in the New York Yankees’ clubhouse is filled with four cardboard boxes of bats, a dozen jerseys, a dangling athletic supporter, two baseball caps and four books.
Rodriguez, who turned 38 Saturday, is something of a cornered man himself these days.
The Yankees consider him a major annoyance, referring to him as Mr. Rodriguez three times in a recent news release.
That tension, however, pales when compared to what’s going on with Major League Baseball. Any time now, Rodriguez is expected to be hit with a lengthy penalty that could put him out of baseball indefinitely or perhaps even permanently.
And MLB’s investigation to possible ties between Rodriguez and a Florida clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs isn’t even the primary source of the deteriorating relationship. The Yankees owe him just under $95 million through 2017, and he’s missed the entire season following hip surgery in January.
After a week’s worth of high drama, second-guessing and radio interviews, it seems Rodriguez is about to be lumped with Yankees who sort of just didn’t fit, failed or just faded away — the Dave Winfield, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano wing of infamy rather than the Monument Park honor roll of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra.
On the day he arrived in February 2004 after the big trade with Texas, the sign board outside old Yankee Stadium proclaimed: "A Rod, Welcome to NY."
Now the message from the Yankees is pretty much: We don’t want to see you ever again.
During a conference call with management to discuss treatment of his thigh injury, A-Rod insisted on having one of his lawyers on the phone, later saying he "just want to make sure that everything is documented properly."
Following his third straight postseason flameout, New York appears to be in no hurry for A-Rod to return. Each day’s delay means that much more of his $153,005 daily salary is reimbursed by insurance.
For much of his career, Rodriguez has bristled at playing a supporting role to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, wondering why his teammate receives adulation and he is met with a mixture of antipathy and scorn.
Jeter strained a quadriceps and was allowed to rehabilitate with the major league team.
Rodriguez strained a quadriceps and was sent to the minor league camp in Tampa, Fla., as if he had been a disruptive student dispatched to the principal’s office for a timeout.
Wherever he goes, contretemps unfold.
"It’s the nature of the business," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Show business, right?"
This was supposed to be the best time of Rodriguez’s career, when he made his mark in history. Fifth on the career list with 647 home runs, he was set to pass Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762) and become the all-time leader.
Only Ruth had hit more home runs than Rodriguez before turning 38.
But his life has seemed to unravel since Dec. 13, 2007, when his record $275 million, 10-year contract was finalized — on the same day George Mitchell issued his report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
He helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series, shaking his image as an automatic October out by hitting .365 in the postseason with six homers and 18 RBIs. But in the time that matters most for the Yankees, he has only six postseason RBIs in 75 at-bats since as his body has fractured with alarming frequency.
He’s made six trips to the disabled list in six seasons for a strained right quadriceps (2008), right hip surgery (2009), a strained left calf (2010), right knee surgery (2011), a broken left hand (2012) and left hip surgery (2013).
All the while he kept generating tabloid headlines for his divorce; for dating Madonna, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Torrie Wilson; for participating in high-stakes celebrity poker games; for the $30 million sale of his Miami house; for buying a Manhattan condominium that came with tax abatement.
"Everyone goes through personal issues. Mine are on the front page of the papers," he said five years ago. "I’m fine with it."
He was an example once, a three-time AL MVP praised for a work ethic that included daybreak spring-training sessions with coaches when most teammates were still asleep. But Rodriguez’s reputation has never been the same since just before spring training in 2009, when he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while he was with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03.
Now he is derided in headlines as "A-Roid."
"I’m very sorry and deeply regretful," he said then, adding he had been "young and stupid."
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig condemned his behavior, saying steroids users had "shamed the game."
Rodriguez agreed to work for the Taylor Hooton Foundation to combat steroids. But the controversies just kept on coming.
He was investigated by MLB for ties to Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor who pleaded guilty two years ago to a federal charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States from Canada. And then Miami New Times reported in January this year that his name was listed in records of Biogenesis of America, sparking the MLB investigation that led to a 65-game suspension for Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL MVP.
A-Rod’s 14 All-Star appearances, his 1996 AL batting title, his two Gold Gloves seem to have little stature in people’s minds.
"In the vast hall of baseball history, Rodriguez is over there in the Denny McLain Wing: great talent overshadowed by great mistakes of great variety. Of course maybe this is unfair — to McLain," ESPN and CNN broadcaster Keith Olbermann said. "MLB will surely act before the latest rehab is over to keep the Yankees from having to put him on the field at the height of a speculative frenzy, and after that he will be contagion personified."
NOTES: Rodriguez did light running in the outfield at the Yankees’ minor league complex. He played catch, hit off a tee in the indoor cage and took 17 grounders hit directly at him on the grass in front of the dirt at third. Six fans, one with a poster board sign saying "Happy Birthday Alex" were there when he left and he waved at them without stopping.