Alex Rodriguez deserves to be recognized in the Baseball Hall of Fame one day as a first-ballot inductee.
That is, if the Hall of Fame is an institution with the mission statement of “preserving history” and “honoring excellence”, as opposed to being the Hall of Good Guys that is being watched over by the BBWAA’s scribes, whose jobs are by no means to provide a moral compass as to what history and what excellence should be preserved.
If and when Rodriguez calls it a day on his career, he certainly won’t be the first or last player to be caught up in this mess. However, even if it’s unlikely that MLB or the Hall will go out of their way to recognize him for his accomplishments (and for good reason, considering that he’s practically made bridge-burning an art), will history do the same?
Given that he’s essentially the sport’s go-to pariah, it’s not an easy question to answer, though it’s worth pointing out that time does have a habit of putting things like scandals and prickly personalities in perspective.
Whether of not you believe A-Rod is fully deserving of the hammer that’s been brought down on his web of deceit and borderline sociopathic behavior, or if MLB is just desperately trying to grasp any semblance of control over a PED situation that they once happily helped create, or if it’s just a giant distraction that only hurts the sport, the numbers don’t lie — and they say that Rodriguez is one of the best ever.
This is, after all, a five-tool player with a .299/.384/.558 career line who ranks 14th all-time with a career 111.0 fWAR, just behind New York Yankees greats Mickey Mantle (112.3) and Lou Gehrig (116.3). Rodriguez is likely to surpass them too, if he gets a chance to honor the remainder of his contract after serving his full-season suspension.
Offensively, the 38-year-old’s best comparison is probably Willie Mays, though it’s unlikely that A-Rod will ever be portrayed in a similar light as far as iconic figures in baseball go … nor would it necessarily be fair.
More interesting is how fans of the Bronx Bombers will remember the third baseman. At this point, he’s divisive enough to have his fair share of haters from the Yankees fan base (which is a remarkable achievement in itself), though the fact that he was essentially a hired gun instead of a Yankees lifer may have moved things along.
Still, given his descent into the PED mess, one thing that may eventually be overlooked is that Rodriguez has been the Yankees’ best offensive player since his arrival in 2004 — and it’s not even close.
With a triple-slash of .291/.386/.534, 309 homers and a value of 49.3 fWAR, A-Rod’s contributions have been well above those of Robinson Cano (.859 OPS, 37.1 fWAR) and Derek Jeter (.808, 36.9) over the same span. In fact, his 310.7 offensive runs above average as a member of the Yankees is 76.3 percent higher than what Cano has generated in his career — despite the second baseman having had 134 more PAs.
But what about Rodriguez’s Achilles’ heel, his playoff performance? Well …
Player A: .308/.374/.465, .838 OPS, 0.49 BB/K
Player B: .269/.369/.464, .833 OPS, 0.52 BB/K
While Player A is a better contact hitter here, you wouldn’t say he’s by far the better player either. In this case, Player B is A-Rod, while Player A is Jeter, Mr. November himself. In fact, both Rodriguez’s .981 ALCS OPS and .973 World Series OPS easily trumps Jeter’s .751 and .832 respectively, so …
Then again, no market takes the “what have you done for me lately?” mantra more seriously than New York, and two straight sub-.400 OPS postseasons in 2011-2012 will help make folks forget that this guy was pretty good for a long time, playoffs or not.
And really, for all of his egomanical tenancies, that’s the biggest possible insult for A-Rod, isn’t it? That not only will he never be seen as the kind of all-time player and first-ballot HOF lock like the Captain, but his on-field legacy might actually be irrevocably marred not just by PED drama, but by a largely untrue myth about his performance when it counts the most in the postseason?
Grace isn’t a requirement for excellence, though a lack of it certainly makes it easy for folks to target a player with disdain and to play down all of their accomplishments; PEDs or not, Rodriguez has no one but himself to blame for that.