With Barry Larkin being elected earlier this week as the latest player to be enshrined in Cooperstown, and in light of the fact that Mark McGwire’s chances of getting elected to the Hall of Fame are diminishing (the percentage of votes he received dropped for the third straight year), I decided to examine Alex Rodriguez and whether or not he will be the first admitted steroid user inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Full disclosure: I used to be one of those fans who railed against steroid usage; I hated it, and I believed that every player caught (or even players I suspected of using PEDs) should be banned from the Hall of Fame. The idea of a plaque in Cooperstown recognizing Barry Bonds as the all-time home run king upset me more than it probably should have. But then, in 2009, Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids for a period of three years while playing for the Texas Rangers.
The Baseball Writers Association of America has taken an ardent, anti-PED position. They seem even hesitant to vote for Jeff Bagwell and that’s merely because they’re suspicious of his big muscles. This rigid stance is going to create a logjam on the ballots in the next few years, and result in a Hall of Fame that won’t include the best players of our generation. If, in fact, the 90s and early 2000s were the “steroid era” and most players were using drugs, then you have no way of knowing for sure who was and wasn’t using PEDs. To pretend that steroid users aren’t already in the Hall of Fame, or that some who used but never got caught won’t be elected in the future, is incredibly dense. The writers are left with one option: To look at players during the “steroid era” and vote in the best compared to their contemporaries.
Besides, the same writers and reporters who ignored the drug use cannot suddenly become the steroid police. They cannot make decisions based on character, on morals and integrity, on what’s right and what’s wrong, because they would be ignoring the fact that they’ve already voted cheating in (cocaine, amphetamines, doctoring baseballs). They’ve already voted questionable character in (alcoholics, punching umpires, stealing signs, baseball writers accused of child molestation). It means the voter’s reasons for why certain players get elected and certain players don’t are completely arbitrary. Even Major League Baseball isn’t punishing steroid users as severely as the BBWAA – as evidenced by the fact that McGwire is now employed as a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Manny Ramirez (suspended twice for violating the drug policy) has been reinstated and his suspension lessened from 100 games to 50.
Despite this, the writers aren’t planning to vote McGwire into the Hall anytime in the near future. I can’t imagine they’ll be voting for Bonds or Clemens when their names appear on the ballot in 2013. But will they vote for Alex Rodriguez once his playing career comes to an end? I think they will, because there are three key differences between his career and the careers of McGwire, Bonds and Clemens.
He’s still playing.
His contract with the Yankees ends in 2017. He won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot until five years after his retirement (2023 at the earliest). Rodriguez has a chance to change our minds, because he’s playing in an era that’s been trumpeted as clean, where steroids have supposedly been eradicated from the game — though that’s up for debate (see: Ryan Braun). Rodriguez was the best player in the American League for almost 15 years. The last couple of seasons haven’t been his most productive, but if he can stay healthy and rebound for a few more good years, he will have a career that spans more than two decades of consistency and greatness. He’s shown he can be great at baseball without steroids, and he has six more seasons to remind us.
The question is: Will the writers have softened their stances on the steroid issue by then? Will they have already voted in some combination of Bonds, Clemens or McGwire? Perhaps by then some of the younger writers and bloggers will be admitted into the BBWAA and will bring a different – maybe more lenient – perspective than the ones current voters have adopted.
Rodriguez never lied under oath to federal officials, and he doesn’t have any perjury cases scheduled on his calendar. What he has is the benefit of a public apology. Critics will say that he only admitted because he got caught, but the other 103 anonymous players who tested positive with Rodriguez in 2003 never came clean. Neither did Barry Bonds, or Rafael Palmeiro or Sammy Sosa or Roger Clemens. Mark McGwire finally admitted in 2010, though he tempered his admission by saying he only used steroids for healing purposes (super believable).
He put up huge numbers in Texas during his prime.
In baseball, players are considered past their prime after the age of 30. When Rodriguez was playing for the Texas Rangers, he was in his prime (ages 25-28). He never reached 60 home runs, with his highest total being 57 in 2002. In contrast, Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 – at the age of 36. He hit 388 home runs between the ages of 33 and 42. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998 and 65 home runs in 1999 – at the ages of 34 and 35, respectively. He hit 254 home runs between the ages of 33 and 37.
Rodriguez would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer without the steroid cloud hanging over his head, and with it he’s doubtful. That doesn’t seem logical or fair.
Think about that: It’s possible the Baseball Hall of Fame won’t include Alex Rodriguez in twenty years. The same Alex Rodriguez who was the No. 1 draft pick out of high school, who rocketed through the minors and made his major league debut at 18 and was an All-Star at 20, the same Alex Rodriguez who has 629 home runs, a lifetime .302 BA and .386 OBP, and compiled a 104.6 WAR after 18 seasons (the active career leader, ahead of future Hall of Fame shoe-ins Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, and Derek Jeter), the same Alex Rodriguez who is a 14-time All-Star, a 2-time Gold Glove award winner, 3-time MVP, 10-time Silver Slugger award winner, a World Series Champion, and the same Alex Rodriguez who will finish his career with more than 3,000 hits, 700 home runs, 2,000 RBI and 300 stolen bases. The same Alex Rodriguez who will go down as the best all-around third baseman to ever play for the Yankees (and, oh yeah, he was pretty good over at short, too).
Steroids or not, Alex Rodriguez should be in the Hall of Fame. It’s a history museum, a place for people to learn about baseball: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Alex Rodriguez admitting to PED use isn’t as big of a stain on baseball as having a Hall of Fame without him would be.