Why Alex Rodriguez Could Be First PED User in the Hall of Fame

Apr 1, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds (right) talks with New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (left) before their spring training game at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds (right) talks with New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (left) before their spring training game at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

There are a few reasons to think that Alex Rodriguez could fare better than other suspected PED users when he is finally Hall of Fame eligible.

Assuming he retires after the 2016 season, Alex Rodriguez will be eligible to be elected into the Hall of Fame in 2021. Strictly by the numbers, he should be a no-doubt, first-ballot inductee. In an alternate universe he would even have a case for being the first player to be unanimously voted in.

By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric (Jaffe WAR Score system), which was designed to “measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness,” Alex Rodriguez receives the second-highest score of any shortstop in history, behind only Honus Wagner. He ranks well ahead of guys like Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, and Ernie Banks.

Yankees fans will be shocked to see that Alex Rodriguez’s JAWS score of 91 is dangerously close to doubling sure-fire first ballot Yankee great Derek Jeter‘s mark of 57. The average Hall of Fame shortstop earned 66.7 career WAR. Alex Rodriguez has racked up 117.9 according to Baseball-Reference. 

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Of course, we all know that Alex Rodriguez will almost certainly not be elected on the first ballot. In fact, the odds of him ever being enshrined in Cooperstown are strongly stacked against him because of his connection to performance enhancing drugs.

Reports surfaced in 2009 that Rodriguez had tested positive for anabolic steroids during the 2003 season when he was playing for the Texas Rangers. This was before Major League Baseball had a drug testing system in place, so no penalties for failing a test were given. Those tests were supposed to remain anonymous and 103 other MLB players also tested positive for similar substances.

Unfortunately, this was not A-Rod’s only brush with PEDs. After an investigation into the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic found records showing Alex Rodriguez regularly received shipments of HGH, he was suspended for the entire 2014 season. Although he first denied the allegations and appealed the suspension, he would later admit to DEA investigators that he was guilty of the charges. 

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Recent Hall of Fame candidates who have been connected to PED use have not fared well in voting, almost certainly for punitive reasons. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who have strong cases as the best player and pitcher in baseball history respectively, have both failed to earn even 50% of the vote in the fourth year on the ballot.

Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, who never had any substantial accusations of PED use made about them, have both been seemingly hurt just because they were big sluggers who happened to play in the “steroid era.”

That said, there are a couple of reasons to think Alex Rodriguez might have a slightly better chance by the time his turn comes around in 2021.

First, the demographics of the BBWAA are slowly changing. In 2015, the organization took Hall of Fame votes away from BBWAA members who have not been active in the last 10 years. That cut out a wide swath of older voters who historically have taken a stronger stance against suspected PED users. 

As more fresh blood joins the ranks of the BBWAA, especially sabermetrically inclined voters who are less likely to care about steroid use, the chances that A-Rod, Bonds, or Clemens get inducted increase.

Somewhat paradoxically, another reason that Alex Rodriguez may receive more Hall of Fame support than Bonds or Clemens is that he admitted his use and was suspended for it. Neither Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens were ever punished for their actions. However, the fact that the majority of Hall voters see them as being guilty means that they can punish them by keeping them out of the HOF.

Could the case be made that Alex Rodriguez served his sentence for his indiscretions when he received his 162 game suspension? He came clean about his drug use, seemingly reformed, and finished his career with his head held high, as a respected leader in the New York Yankees clubhouse.

He has even become something of a sympathetic figure among Yankees fans because of his clear enthusiasm for the game and desire to keep playing well into his 40’s, even as his body is failing him.

Next: What's Next for A-Rod?

The further baseball gets from the outrage of the steroid era, the more fans and writers can get perspective on some of the great players of that generation, regardless of the mistakes they may have made.

Alex Rodriguez is one player who has made some mistakes in his career and punished for them. Should those mistakes keep him from being remembered as the all-time great he clearly is?