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Alex Rodriguez Retires After 13 Years With The Yankees

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After 13 years as a New York Yankee, Alex Rodriguez will play his last game in pinstripes tonight. Reporter Jim O'Grady of member station WNYC recounts the ups and downs of the slugger's career, which has been nothing less than operatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES")

JIM O'GRADY, BYLINE: Not just operatic - this guy is Wagnerian.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES")

O'GRADY: You could say the career of Alex Rodriguez begins on a mountaintop, like the high peak in "Ride Of The Valkyries."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES")

O'GRADY: In 1993, he's the number one pick in the Major League Baseball draft. A year later, at age 18, he's in the big leagues. He'll be the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs - younger than Babe Ruth, younger than Hank Aaron.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: She's gone. Another A-bomb from A-Rod.

O'GRADY: In 2000, A-Rod leaves the Seattle Mariners to sign with the Texas Rangers for $252 million. It's the richest contract in baseball history.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

O'GRADY: Those are Rhinemaidens singing about gold - so much gold. Now, it's 2008, and A-Rod is with the Yankees in tabloid town.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EXPRESS YOURSELF")

MADONNA: (Singing) Don't go for second-best, baby.

O'GRADY: And speaking of maidens, he's linked to Madonna and reveling in his status as an A-list celebrity. He rules baseball as the five-time homerun king and three-time most valuable player. In Wagnerian terms, he has achieved the ring of power. But this is opera, so the ring is cursed. A-Rod's wife files for divorce, though the seeds of his destruction have begun germinating the year before, when he took questions from Katie Couric for "60 Minutes."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATIE COURIC: Have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing substance?

ALEX RODRIGUEZ: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

O'GRADY: Wrong answer, Alex. Not only had he done steroids, he had tested positive for them years before. Major League Baseball tested its players confidentially to find out how many were using drugs to cheat. When that long list of names was leaked, A-Rod caught most of the flak.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Alex Rodriguez answers allegations he tested positive for steroids.

RODRIGUEZ: I was young. I was stupid. I was naive.

O'GRADY: But at the time, there's no rule against steroids, so he's free to help vanquish the Phillies and win the World Series in 2009.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #2: The Yankees win.

O'GRADY: Now, the protagonist has an actual ring, but his flaws remain. A-Rod is caught doping again. This time, baseball uses a new rule to slap him with a record suspension. He unleashes an army of lawyers to contest it, but loses in arbitration and must sit out the following season. Today, he leaves with a whimper, a shadow of his former self, his bat a broken sword. Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, but he's fallen from the mountaintop and knows it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RODRIGUEZ: I'm upset about the mistake and disappointed, but I'm even more disappointed that I acted like an ass. That whole process was painful.

O'GRADY: At least A-Rod, at 41, is no longer using youth as an excuse. And maybe that counts as a glimmer of wisdom. For NPR News, I'm Jim O'Grady in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.