By Larry Fine
NEW YORK, Jan 11 (Reuters) - New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez has vowed to carry his fight against a season-long doping suspension into the courts, but win or lose the controversial player is not likely to disappear from the scene.
The man popularly known as A-Rod, the best-paid player in Major League Baseball history, has never shied from the spotlight and the 38-year-old will probably be commanding attention for years to come.
Even if Rodriguez misses the entire 2014 campaign, he still is owed a total of $61 million in guaranteed salary, not counting bonuses.
The player insists he is not guilty and not done.
"I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in any manner, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court," he vowed in a statement on Saturday after independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz's ruling suspended Rodriguez for 162 games.
"I will continue to work hard to get back on the field and help the Yankees achieve the ultimate goal of winning another championship."
The latest twist continues to set the 14-time All-Star apart from the pack.
Thirteen other players were suspended for their alleged ties to the Biogenesis clinic midway through the 2013 season. Twelve of them agreed to 50-game suspensions and former National League most valuable player Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game ban.
Rodriguez stood alone in challenging his punishment, a 211-game ban that Major League Baseball said was made heavier due to his past doping behavior and for obstructing the investigation.
Rodriguez has done most everything bigger in his major league career.
Rodriguez signed two record-setting contracts totalling more than half a billion dollars in his fence-busting career as the man who would become baseball's clean Home Run King.
His pursuit of Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader convicted of obstruction of justice in a federal case stemming from a doping scheme, had once been seen as a holy quest for the golden boy who burst into the major leagues at age 18.
That chase was initially tarnished by Rodriguez's admission in 2009 that he had used steroids earlier in his career. With the Biogenesis fallout, Rodriguez has become the new face of cheating in baseball.
It was all supposed to end much differently for Rodriguez, who stands fifth on MLB's all-time home run list with 654, 108 home runs behind Bonds.
A three-time Most Valuable Player award winner, Rodriguez had appeared a part of any conversation on baseball's greatest players, but now his career is lumped in with others from the steroids era, including Bonds and Roger Clemens, who have both been shunned on ballots for admission to the Hall of Fame.
Rodriguez, a lightning rod for media attention who has been romantically linked to actresses Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson and pop star Madonna, rose from humble origins.
Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez was born in New York City to Dominican parents in a Latino neighborhood of the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.
The youngest of three children of Victor Rodriguez and Lourdes Navarro, Rodriguez came by his passion for the game from his father, a former professional catcher in the Dominican.
His family moved back to the Dominican Republic when he was four, then to Miami when he was a fifth-grader. Victor and Lourdes separated, leaving Lourdes to raise the family.
Rodriguez grew into a remarkable athlete, winning the national high school baseball title at Miami's Westminster Christian High School. He was recruited to play both shortstop and quarterback for the University of Miami, with whom he signed a letter of intent to attend.
But the lure of the major leagues and a $1.3 million contract to sign with the Seattle Mariners as the number one overall pick of the 1993 amateur draft put A-Rod on a fast-track to stardom.
He made his MLB debut as an 18-year-old in 1994 as the youngest player in the majors and after another partial season was installed as starting shortstop for Seattle in 1996.
Rodriguez responded with a sensational season, leading the American League in hitting with a .358 batting average. He added 36 home runs and 123 runs batted in that season, off-the-chart numbers for the young shortstop who finished a close second in the league's MVP voting.
Two more All-Star seasons followed, in 1997 and in 1998, when he hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases.
Rodriguez achieved free agency at age 24, and signed a record 10-year, $252 million contract in 2001 to play for the Texas Rangers.
He put up monster numbers, clouting 52 home runs in 2001 and 57 in 2002 and won the AL most valuable player award in 2003.
But the Rangers were not winning, and wanting to get out from under the enormous salary, Texas dealt him to the Yankees in 2004 and agreed to pay part of his salary.
While Rodriguez produced big numbers for the Yankees, winning MVP honors in 2005 and 2007, fans still seemed unsatisfied with him, deriding him for not hitting in the clutch as the Bronx Bombers failed to add another World Series title.
After the 2007 season, Rodriguez exercised an opt-out clause in his deal that effectively made him a free agent.
Coming off a 54-home run season, the Yankees wrote him a new contract, giving him a record $275 million, 10-year deal that included an extra $30 million in bonuses for eclipsing home run milestones.
Rodriguez emerged unscathed when baseball's Mitchell Report was issued in December 2007, citing widespread doping in the game.
Jose Canseco, an admitted steroids user and a team mate from Rodriguez's Rangers days, claimed A-Rod had used steroids, but Rodriguez did an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" emphatically denying the assertion.
His 'white knight' persona vanished a year later.
A Sports Illustrated report revealed that Rodriguez had been one of 104 players who tested positive in what was supposed to have been a confidential survey in 2003 that established that steroids use was widespread enough to warrant mandatory random drug testing.
Rodriguez faced the media in a massive news conference at the spring training camp in Tampa, Florida, in February 2009 and admitted to using steroids, but said it was limited to his Texas days and motivated by the stress of living up to his mega-deal.
That unleashed tabloid nicknames for the slugger like "A-Roid" and "A-Fraud."
However, after the mea culpa Rodriguez broke through to help the Yankees win the 2009 World Series, their first title since 2000, while shedding the rap that he was a post-season flop.
It proved to be the Yankee high point for A-Rod, who then began breaking down physically, needing surgery on his hip, and missing large portions of the season.
That chapter culminated with an embarrassing stretch during the 2012 post-season that ended with a 4-0 sweep by the Detroit Tigers in the American League championship series.
Rodriguez was pinch-hit for in key situations and ultimately benched, going 3-25 (.120) overall.
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Gene Cherry)
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