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.
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.
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.
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.)