New York Yankees Editorial: What do Alex Rodriguez’s milestones really mean?


Everyone who follows baseball, and even many who don’t, has an opinion on Alex Rodriguez, as he is one of a handful of athletes able to make that claim.  While many New York Yankees fans who previously couldn’t stand him have come around due to his 2015 performance, this writer, for one, has always stood by Rodriguez.

While people have criticized Rodriguez, the player, they have also criticized him as a man, and the perception that his character as a man is flawed.  We have all made mistakes, some larger than others, but in the grand scheme of things, cheating, as some like to call it, at a game really doesn’t make one a bad person.  Many have cheated and have been accepted back with open graces.

The problem with Rodriguez is that he is not your ordinary athlete, as he was supposed to be the player who “purified” the home run record after Barry Bonds “tainted” it by passing Hank Aaron.  Criticizing Rodriguez, the player, is acceptable, as baseball is a sport where records matter, but to criticize Rodriguez, the man, shows a deeper flaw in society than his decision to take steroids.

Due to the general opinion that Rodriguez needed to pass Bonds to restore the home run record to the clean side, his first admission to steroids hurt us, as we no longer had our savior, thus turning him from baseball’s hope into the biggest villain in the sport.  Although Rodriguez consistently makes significant contributions to charity, including putting underprivileged young adults through college, many people still view him as a horrible person.

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Rodriguez has reached some of the rarest milestones in baseball history, but they mostly have been met with a negative response, due to his past steroids admission.  The problem that I have with the hatred towards Rodriguez, and many others from the steroids era that took over baseball following the 1994 strike, is that then-commissioner Bud Selig turned a blind eye to the problem, even encouraging usage according to some accounts, until Congress stepped in.  Even the media didn’t have a problem, as they followed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa across the nation in 1998 as the two sluggers were on a steroids fueled chase to pass Roger Maris‘ then-record of 61 home runs.

After Congress’ interference, the perception of steroids in baseball has changed, but are steroids really worst than greenies, now banned in baseball, which Aaron, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle, all used.  The perception that steroids users should be publicly shunned, while greenies users are accepted, led to one writer, T.J. Quinn, giving up his Hall of Fame vote.

Even with amphetamines usage, Aaron, Mays, and Mantle were all great talents, and are generally regarded as three of the greatest players of all-time, all Hall of Famers ranking in the top 15 in career WAR among position players.  Each of the top 45 Hall of Fame eligible players on this list have been voted in, except for those connected to steroids.

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Continuing to shun Rodriguez for his past mistakes, and ignore the history which he is making, is wrong.  Rodriguez served his time and one has to believe there is no way he isn’t playing clean in 2015.  While I always felt that MLB came down far too hard on Rodriguez (211-game suspension lowered to 162, while everybody else on the list only got a 50-game suspension), he has returned with no ill-will, and has worked hard to reinvent himself as one of the teams, and even the sports, best hitters.

Rodriguez is arguably the greatest talent that the sport has ever seen, and that is why many cannot come to grips with the fact that he tarnished his legacy.  Only one other person in baseball history has reached the numbers that he has (3,000 hits, 600 home runs, 2,000 RBI’s), and that was Aaron.

While many will argue that Aaron was the superior talent, Rodriguez has actually graded out as the far better defender (10.7 dWAR vs. -4.8 dWAR) and has the better OBP (.384 vs .374), SLG (.558 vs. .555), and OPS (.942 vs. .928).  Rodriguez also was the better baserunner (323 SB/399 attempts vs. 240 SB/313 attempts).

It’s unlikely that Rodriguez will catch Aaron in some of the categories that fans usually tend to look at, such as hits, home runs, and RBI’s, but even still, in the sense of a complete five-tool player, Rodriguez might be the best the game has ever seen.

That brings us to the question, what do these numbers and milestones really mean, not only to the sport, but to the fans as well?  Many will argue that they are not legitimate, choosing to avoid the fact that Rodriguez was a Hall of Fame talent without steroids, as he hit .358 leading the league in his first full season, and went 40-40 two years later.

Taking his word, which could be hard for many to do at this point, Rodriguez didn’t start using steroids until signing his monster contract with the Texas Rangers, something that seems logical as that is when his body bulked up.  In his five full seasons as a Seattle Mariner, Rodriguez posted a slash-line of .315/.381/.575 while averaging 37 home runs, 115 RBI’s, and 25 stolen bases over 145 games.  He also added an average of 38 doubles, 122 runs, and 184 hits.  Those certainly seem to be the numbers of a player on his way to the Hall of Fame, which only make his decision to use steroids even more confusing.

Rodriguez, who has had one of the most interesting careers in the history of baseball, has done plenty to restore his image in 2015, as entering Thursday’s contest with the Houston Astros, he ranked among his team leaders, and the league leaders in almost every major offensive category.  He has posted a slash-line of .290/.392/.538, which is right there with his career numbers, while adding 15 home runs and 44 RBI’s.  His production has landed him an ESPY nomination for Best Comeback Athlete.

The Yankees will enter play one game back in the AL East, and tied for the Wild Card lead, and simply put, there’s no way they would be in this position without Rodriguez’s bat.  Entering Spring Training, many felt Rodriguez would be cut, but now, it’s hard to envision him not sticking around for the duration of his contract.

While I have long been an advocate of players with the numbers being voted in, steroids or not, I truly believe that even with his suspension, and second admission, Rodriguez has a chance to break the trend, if it is not already broken by the time he reaches the ballot. I always felt that Rodriguez would surely be voted in before the Biogenesis scandal, as he had several years to regain popularity among voters from the time of his admission.  Although he squandered that opportunity, he has thrived in his latest chance.

Players like Rodriguez, Bonds, and Roger Clemens suffered from watching inferior players break records and become the talk of the town and ultimately went to the dark side, but in a time where the majority of baseball was using, there likely is already someone who has used at one point or another in the Hall of Fame.

As it stands, Hall of Fame or not, Rodriguez will go down as one of the greatest players, with some of the greatest numbers, ever to put on a uniform.  It’s a shame that he chose to follow the steps of players who didn’t have half of his talent, otherwise his ascension past some of the all-time greats would be major news across the country, not only among Yankees fans.

While we must all live with our mistakes, Rodriguez’s milestones do mean something, to him, the fans, and the sport.  They are a reminder of what could have been, a legacy that, by any standards, would surely rank in the top five in baseball history.  Instead, after fighting to continue his career, Rodriguez is viewed as a fallen hero, and unfortunately, even if he does reach Cooperstown, his legacy will go down as one of the most hated athletes of all-time.

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