By now, everyone who follows big league baseball knows what is coming for the New York Yankees in about five weeks. The most polarizing player not named Barry Bonds returns to the diamond in Tampa, to resume his career. Yes, Alex Rodriguez will be back and as previously reported, he thinks the third base job is his to lose. Losing the hot corner job in spring to Chase Headley is the least of A-Rod’s concerns. There are many who believe there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of A-Rod ever making it out of Tampa, and donning the pinstripes once the regular season starts.
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But, what do you think the Yankees should do? Pay him $61 million dollars, and just make him go away? Nobody is going to deal for him, and if they would, the Yankees could have to eat the entirety of his remaining contract. Let’s face it, the Yankees haven’t quite been an offensive juggernaut for the past two years, and if the 39-year old has ANYTHING left in the tank, the Yankees could sure use it.
As someone that has watched A-Rod since his early days in the Seattle Mariners’ organization, I am well aware, perhaps more aware than some, of what an excellent overall athlete Rodriguez once was. That’s not to say that he is anywhere close to his prime, because he is not. He’s been out of baseball for most of the last two years, and has two bad hips. That’s not a combo for solid production. But, with that said, love him or hate him, I am not going to be the guy to bet AGAINST him. I’ve said this for months, that because he possesses such great natural athleticism, has a chip on his shoulder, and should get the opportunity to prove this spring that he can still hit, I’ve predicted a .270/20/70 season for him. So much so, that it’s a running joke among my fellow staffers here at Yanks Go Yard.
Sure, I am also well aware that A-Rod has been using PEDs for more than a decade now, and since he’s most likely facing the death penalty if he’s caught again, he’s heading into 2015 using the all natural method. No help other than the skills God has given him–however much of that he still possesses. But, that is not the point of this piece. There are two looming issues that face both the Yankees AND MLB, assuming that A-Rod makes it out of Tampa, and is in Joe Girardi‘s Opening Day lineup as the DH.
First and foremost, is how to handle the situation when A-Rod hit’s his sixth and seventh home runs of the season, respectively. His sixth long ball will tie him with the immortal Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. His seventh, and A-Rod will move past him, and in the process, gaining another cool $6 mil in the process. Given his recent troubles, the obvious cheating of the game and his tarnished legacy, how do the Yankees and MLB celebrate this milestone? Baseball unlike any other sport, hold their records near and dear to their collective hearts. Fans know numbers such as 61, 56-games, 4,256 hits, without even mentioning names. Fans know what 660 means. It’s Willie Mays, and it means hallowed ground. Is there a celebration at all? Do the Yankees and MLB ignore the feat when it happens? And for those of you naysayers out there, IT WILL HAPPEN.
As if passing the beloved Mays on the all-time home run list wasn’t enough salt in the wound, A-Rod is also 61 hits away from joining another club of great achievement: the 3,000-hit club. This is the second big issue facing both his team and the organization he sued less than a year ago. One one man who is a member of both the 500-home run club and the 3,000-hit club has zero shot at Cooperstown: A-Rod’s former teammate and famous finger wagger in Rafael Palmeiro. Like A-Rod, Raffy was caught cheating, and although he was never the impact player that A-Rod has been over his career, his legacy is forever tarnished, and the only way he ever sees the Hall of Fame, is by purchasing a ticket, just like you and I.
Unlike Palmeiro however, A-Rod’s legacy is already tarnished as he approaches milestones in the history of the game. He’s unique in this situation. Palmeiro’s achievements of hitting home run #500 and getting hit #3000 were both celebrated–because he was never under serious suspicion at the time of the marks being hit. MLB and his respective club celebrated the achievements, just as they have with any other legendary player over the past 50 years. What do the Yankees and MLB do when A-Rod gets his 61st knock of the season? Act like it’s just another hit? Act like it didn’t happen? Like it or not, until MLB figures out a system to determine stats accumulated by players who have cheated, A-Rod’s numbers are going to stick. Say Alex Rodriguez finds his stroke, and can average 20 home runs per season over the next three. Guess what club he’ll join then? That’s right! The 700-home run club with Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and the aforementioned Bonds. Then what?
This season presents an interesting dilemma for both the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball. A-Rod has served his suspension. He’s being allowed to report to the Yankees and resume his career. Is all forgiven? Will he be celebrated for his career achievements? Should he be? No player has ever walked this path before, that is, being punished so severely for using PEDs and has lived to ADD to his legacy, regardless of how tarnished or damaged. Players such as Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, were all long gone before concrete evidence of their use came to light. A-Rod’s evidence is clear as day, yet he will take the field to open the season, most likely as the Yankees’ DH, and has both milestones in his sights. Stay tuned!