Honoring legendary players, coaches and managers by retiring their number is a tradition taken very seriously across all sports. And in baseball, due to the rich history and society-shaping influence the game has had, it’s even more magnified in MLB.
This is especially the case for the New York Yankees, one of the oldest and most storied franchises ever. Reflecting on the Yanks’ exalted past, the team has removed 21 numbers from circulation to recognize the contributions made outstanding players and managers, which is the most in MLB. Other established clubs have also retired many of their extraordinary players’ and managers’ numbers, including the St. Louis Cardinals (15), San Francisco Giants (14), Cincinnati Reds (13), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (10).
MLB organizations vary in their perspectives and approaches in determining whose numbers to retire. Some teams only retire a number after the player has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Others take a more liberal view, granting a broader definition for such a ceremony.
Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez is arguably one of the top 10 players in MLB history. During his 12 years in the Bronx, he finished with 351 home runs, drove in 1,096 RBI, a .900 OPS, and an 136 OPS+.
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Rodriguez was the American League MVP twice (2005 and 2007), was selected to the All-Star team seven times, and helped the club win the 2009 World Series. Often overlooked, A-Rod hit an insane 263 doubles and stole a remarkable 152 bases while playing for the Yanks. He compiled an eye-popping 54 WAR with the Bronx Bombers (David Ortiz’s CAREER WAR is 55.3).
The two-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop graciously agreed to move to third base after leaving the Texas Rangers not to interrupt the Yankees’ relationship with Derek Jeter. As a result, Rodriguez, Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira formed one of the best infields in MLB history.
Admittedly, A-Rod was being paid an enormous amount of money by the Yanks. And some might think that he agreed to make the move because of this. However, you could argue many of the top performers at a certain position wouldn’t make such a concession. Agreeing to play third base was a sacrifice on his part.
Should the Yankees’ retire Alex Rodriguez’s number despite his PED missteps?
A major dilemma the Yankees will face in the future is whether to honor Rodriguez for his excellent play and show solidarity with a controversial career by retiring his No. 13. If the Yanks only considered a player’s performance with the team, deciding whether to retire A-Rod’s number would be easy. Clearly, his level of play with the Yanks is better than many players whose numbers have already been retired.
However, Rodriguez’s case is quite complicated. As most fans know, Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his career. Initially, he repeatedly denied the use of PEDs from the Miami-area Biogenesis clinic, even as he finished a one-year suspension by MLB in 2014 for violating baseball’s drug program. In fact, he took MLB to court for “unjustly” accusing him of doping to gain a performance advantage.
Eventually, however, A-Rod came to his senses and admitted to federal authorities that he indeed bought and used hormone-filled syringes, gummies and creams from the clinic. He confessed that he injected human growth hormones into his stomach under the clinic owner’s guidance.
On top of that monumental controversy, he was considered vain and disingenuous, especially by the New York media. In short: he wasn’t very well-liked.
Where does this leave Alex Rodriguez’s legacy with the Yankees?
An organization’s decision to retire a number not only speaks volumes about a player; it also reflects the team’s values and character. If the Yankees decide to permanently retire Rodriguez’s number, it’ll likely result in troubling optics, especially when you realize the amount of iconic players who are enshrined in Monument Park.
This perspective was recently reflected in the Hall of Fame voting. Despite A-Rod’s terrific achievements during his career, only 34.4% of the baseball writers believed that he was worthy of inclusion in Cooperstown, which has fallen right in line with the character clause during this most recent era of voting.
Is there another route for the Yankees, though?
Rich “Goose” Gossage, an outstanding reliever, is in the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, yet his number has not been retired. Since his playing days, he has been highly critical of baseball and the Yankees organization, making comments deemed offensive by team executives and fans. However, the Yanks have awarded him a plaque (displayed in Monument Park) for his outstanding contributions on the mound. Should the Yanks do this for Rodriguez without creating a league-wide conundrum with regards to retiring numbers of players who have cheated the game or haven’t represented themselves off the field in appropriate fashion?
Retiring A-Rod’s number would likely be a public relations disaster of epic proportions for the team, but more importantly, it’d perhaps remove the luster from the tradition and play a role in insulting and delegitimatizing the admirable successes of others.
And if the Yankees still won’t let their players appear a touch “out of line” with what they deem presentable, how can we expect them to be the first in a long line of franchises to open a largely unnecessary can of worms?