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Most valuable, most vulnerable: Highs and lows of A-Rod's unforgettable career

Alex Rodriguez waits on deck while playing for the Tampa Yankees during a minor league game July 13. Mike Carlson / Reuters

Alex Rodriguez, owner of the richest contract in Major League Baseball history and once the game’s biggest star, will be suspended for the entire 2014 season. The slugger will be banned for 162 games — including the postseason.

A-Rod was originally given a 211-game penalty on Aug. 5, after an investigation of the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic, which was accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs. 

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Baseball has accused A-Rod of using and possessing "numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years.” 

Rodriguez has repeatedly denied acquiring huge amounts of performance-enhancing drugs from the Florida anti-aging clinic.

The punishment is the most spectacular fall in a career that has been an unending conflict between on-field heroics and off-field missteps, promise hamstrung by preoccupation.

Here’s a look at how some of the highs and lows have played out in the one-of-a-kind career of Alex Rodriguez.

HIGHS

Rapid rise. Rodriguez stars on the best high school team in the country, Westminster Christian of Miami, and Sports Illustrated makes its first mention of him — declaring that he has “enough tools to stock a hardware store.” One scout calls him the next Cal Ripken. Rodriguez secures a baseball scholarship from the University of Miami but enters the 1993 Major League draft. Seattle takes him with the first overall pick.

Alex Rodriguez, 18, listens on the telephone as the Seattle Mariners ask him to join their team in 1993. Marta Lavandier / AP

Seattle slew. Rodriguez plays his first full season in 1996 and blasts 36 home runs for the Mariners. He wins the American League batting title, hitting .358, and narrowly misses being named American League MVP. The Sporting News names Rodriguez its player of the year, and he even manages to wrest some of the spotlight from Seattle’s superstar outfielder, Ken Griffey Jr.

Most valuable. The New York Yankees, suddenly without a third baseman after Aaron Boone hurts his knee, trade for Rodriguez in February 2004 and convert him from shortstop to third base. He tells reporters he feels like a kid again. Rodriguez wins two MVP awards over the next four years and tells reporters in 2007: “New York has been a place of growth to me.”

Power trip. In August 2007, Rodriguez blasts a pitch into the left-field stands at Yankee Stadium and becomes the youngest player to reach 500 home runs. At the time, some see him as the hero who will reclaim the all-time record from steroid-tainted Barry Bonds. By the time he hits No. 600 in August 2010 — again the youngest to do it — Rodriguez is tainted himself.

October surprise. Rodriguez, mostly a non-factor during Yankee postseasons, hits .455 in the 2009 Division Series against the Minnesota Twins and .429 in the American League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He cools off during the World Series, but the Yankees take the championship anyway, and some fans decide Rodriguez has finally earned his pinstripes.

Alex Rodriguez reacts after grounding out with the bases loaded against the New York Mets on May 20, 2011 at Yankee Stadium. Mike Stobe / Getty Images

LOWS

The monster contract. After the 2000 season, Rodriguez has established himself as perhaps the best player in the game. He leaves the Mariners for the Texas Rangers — and an eye-popping $252 million. Seattle fans never forgive him. When the Rangers come to Seattle for a series in April 2001, one fan near the on-deck circle extends a fishing pole toward Rodriguez, with a dollar bill as bait.

The brawl and the slap. Rodriguez is traded to the Yankees for the 2004 season, and the mix proves combustible. He takes a catcher’s mitt to the face during a brawl with the Boston Red Sox in July. Then, in the playoffs, he bizarrely swats at a Red Sox pitcher trying to tag him after a slow grounder. To the umpires, it’s interference. To A-Rod haters, it’s catnip. The Yankees become the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in a playoff series.

A-Roid. In February 2009, Sports Illustrated reports that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, as part of a confidential drug survey by Major League Baseball. He tells ESPN he was under “an enormous amount of pressure to perform” in Texas and insists he has been clean during his Yankee years. The admission puts the lie to an interview with Katie Couric in which Rodriguez flatly denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

Chicks dig the longball. Rodriguez’s personal life becomes a circus in the late 2000s. He is linked in published reports to a stripper in Toronto, a former stripper in Boston, a call girl in New York, Kate Hudson and Madonna. Rodriguez and his wife divorce in 2008 after his wife claims that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Three years later, Fox Sports cameras catch Cameron Diaz feeding Rodriguez popcorn at the Super Bowl.

Damned Yankees. A struggling Rodriguez is benched for key games in the 2012 playoffs. Hesits out the 2013 season as a strained quadriceps strains his relationship with his own team. Rodriguez pushes to get off the disabled list and retains his own orthopedist for a second opinion. The Yankees have their own opinion: Rodriguez has broken baseball’s labor agreement by failing to notify the team, and still isn’t healthy enough to play.