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Alex Rodriguez is thriving after baseball, but he's 'still a work in progress'

Since retiring from Major League Baseball two years ago, Alex Rodriguez's rise from the ashes of a drug scan...

Posted: Dec. 19, 2018 11:30 AM
Updated: Dec. 19, 2018 11:30 AM

Since retiring from Major League Baseball two years ago, Alex Rodriguez's rise from the ashes of a drug scandal to adored on-air personality has been swift.

Maybe it's his likable stance as a baseball analyst on network TV, or maybe it's his high-profile relationship with Jennifer Lopez.

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Or possibly, there is a sense of relief that his tumultuous career -- marked by a 2009 World Series win and 14 All Star selections, along with bloated contracts, accusations of steroid use, lawsuits and a lengthy suspension -- is over.

"I fell from the top of the mountain, all the way to the ground," Rodriguez tells CNN while in London to promote next summer's games between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. "I call it ground zero and below."

"I served the longest (drug) suspension in Major League Baseball history, and I came back and I keep coming back," he adds. "I'm still a work in progress, but I think it was a necessary evil for me, to kind of shift the paradigm."

Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003, before penalties were in place, and admitted to using "a banned substance" after the results were leaked in 2009.

Two years later, he was caught up in the investigation into the Biogenesis clinic that provided supplements like human growth hormone and testosterone to players.

The Yankee slugger was the only player of the 13 suspended by MLB in 2011 to appeal, pitting him directly against baseball's league office.

Though he never publicly admitted to buying performance enhancers from Biogenesis, he lost the appeal and was handed a 211-game suspension.

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Redemption

It is telling that MLB chose Rodriguez, 43, as its sole representative in London last month, such is his allure and redemptive power with the league.

Redemption is a concept that Rodriguez has embraced as part of his rebranding, even delivering a "Baseball, Business & Redemption" lecture at South by Southwest in March.

Rodriguez -- who earned over $441 million in salary, according to baseball-reference.com -- is one of the most talented athletes to grace a baseball diamond, but his on-field productivity was hardly matched by fan adoration.

It was only four years ago that A-Rod sued MLB and the players association for the Biogenesis-related suspension. He eventually dropped the cases and sat out the entire 2014 season.

Press referred to him as a "the best paid pariah in the history of sports" among other epithets.

Yet Rodriguez served his penalty and played another season and a half. He finished fourth in MLB career home runs, before transitioning to an advisory role with the Yankees and taking on TV work.

"I have the opportunity to help a lot of young players that can learn from my mistakes," he reflects during an interview with CNN World Sport. "Owning my mistakes, it becomes something even more powerful than pre-making mistakes, if that makes any sense."

Rodriguez twice leans on a passage from motivational speaker Jim Rohn as he discusses rehabilitating his image. "You're an average of the five people you spend the most time with," he says.

Part of the process was dedicating time to one of his favorite causes, the Miami-Dade chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of America, where he opened a new baseball field last year.

"It saved my life," he says of the youth club. "In many ways it was a parent to me because my father was not around."

Rodriguez's parents, who immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic, split up when he was young. His mother Lourdes raised Alex and his two full siblings working as a secretary and waitress.

The hardship led to a thirst for real estate and business investments that began early in his playing days.

"Growing up, we always had to move because the landlord kept raising the rents and we couldn't afford it," Rodriguez says of his childhood living conditions in Miami, Florida "and it was tough watching my mother doing that."

"I kind of made a promise to myself that if I ever could afford to trade places with the landlord that I would do that, and I bought my first duplex when I was in my early 20s."

By the time Rodriguez signed his first big contract in 2000, the ballplayer flew to Omaha, Nebraska to receive tips from investing guru Warren Buffett.

Nearly two decades later, he's parlayed that wisdom into A-Rod Corp, which owns and develops thousands of housing units, and invests in health clubs, auto dealerships and startups like esports team NRG. He even makes regular appearances as a guest entrepreneur on the reality TV series "Shark Tank."

Coinciding with Rodriguez's business interests is his cover appeal, bolstered by his Instagram-ready lifestyle with J-Lo (she has nearly 83 million followers, he has two million).

The two posed for a Vanity Fair cover story last year, shot by Mario Testino, headlined "J-Rod! Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez on Love, Beauty, and Redemption." (There's that word again: "Redemption" creeps up in eight other A-Rod headlines on a cursory internet search.)

Foul territory

In his two days of making the rounds with the British press, the three-time American League MVP recites the same quotes often, including those about his personal journey.

"I was able to come back by turning the lens inward and by doing a lot of work," he says.

He's in town to promote the MLS London Series between the Yankees and Red Sox scheduled for June 2019, and Rodriguez does it well.

"I would give a lot of money to be a player ... in front of these great fans, and I may try and still sneak in with my pinstripes and see if I can get one at bat," he chuckles on camera.

Rodriguez has shown so much magnetism and baseball candor in the TV booth that rival networks ESPN and Fox have allowed him to split duties between them. He even won an Emmy last year for his role with "MLB on FOX: The Postseason."

Although Rodriguez is thankful for a second shot at making a living as a public personality -- "Grateful is an understatement," he says -- there are topics that roll into foul territory on this London trip.

Rodriguez's baseball legacy, considering his checkered past, has been a topic of discussion among baseball purists for a decade -- but not one he is readily willing to entertain.

Is the Hall of Fame an important milestone for A-Rod? "We can talk about that some other time," he deadpans during a follow-up interview for CNN.com.

Rodriguez will be eligible in 2021 and a shoe-in for the Hall if not for his doping violations.

MLB peers Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- who have both denied doping allegations and were cleared in federal probes -- have been on the ballot since 2013, with four years of Hall of Fame eligibility remaining.

Pete Rose, an unexpected friend of Rodriguez's, has been permanently banned since 1989 for baseball gambling and is ineligible for the Hall. Rose admitted to gambling but denies betting against his own teams.

Rodriguez met Rose in 2006 and sought hitting advice, according to ESPN. The two struck up a friendship that continues to this day. (Rose, perhaps, could use pointers on PR from A-Rod.)

"Yeah, we're still friends," Rodriguez says of his relationship with baseball's all-time leader in hits. "I have a lot of respect for Pete."

And what about Rodriguez's much publicized rocky rapport with former Yankee captain Derek Jeter? "Everything's good," he says, bluntly.

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"I'm fine with the credit I got (as a teammate). I don't have any complaints when I look back at my career," he adds.

"I played hard, I loved the game, I prepared very hard for it, and what I did for my teammates was really for my teammates to know. It wasn't really to have a reputation outside of that."

Rodriguez's second mega-contract, a $275 million, 10-year deal with the Yankees, featured incentives for breaking the all-time home run mark, a feat that was derailed by injuries and the 2014 suspension.

Instead, A-Rod stands fourth, only 66 home runs behind career leader Barry Bonds -- who Rodriguez names, with no irony intended, as the best player he ever faced.

One slot ahead at No. 3 is none other than Babe Ruth.

"I love it," Rodriguez says of his position, 18 home runs behind the Yankee great whose sale from the Red Sox in 1919 launched the "Curse of the Bambino."

"Look, I'm a young man that came from South Florida with a single mother who had two jobs and we would count tips money," he recalls, "and my goal was to get a scholarship to the University of Miami ... and you're asking me about Babe Ruth?"

The response is right on brand, and befitting of a redemption tour.

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