A-Rod’s Complicated Legacy


 

The end of an era has come to Major League Baseball.  With the Yankees 6-3 win over Tampa Bay Friday night, the career of Alex Rodriguez – one the greatest, if not controversial players of his generation – comes to an end. He went on a high as well, notching an RBI double in his first at bat against Rays ace Chris Archer. Like so many pinstripe-wearing greats before him, he was removed before game’s end and exited to a standing ovation.

Although his 12 seasons with the Yankees were his longest tenure with any one team during his 22 year career, it is difficult to include him among the all-time Yankee greats. For one thing, he only spent a little over half of his career in black-and-white. While that is enough to have a legacy with almost any other team, the Yankees are different. Many of their star players remain with them for life, harkening back to pre-WWII times when a bulk of players spent the majority of their playing careers with one team and before the internet age exploded an already huge hot stove market. The Yankees were one team to continue this trend. Three-quarters of the “core four” played all their major league games in Pinstripes. Even the fourth member, Andy Pettitte, spent 15 of his 18 big league seasons in the big league. Even amongst that quartet, two of them are sure first ballot Hall-Of-Famers. Pettitte also has a very good shot and will most likely eventually join his cohorts. Even Posada has a decent chance; his way above-average offensive stats for a catcher could sway some voters.

That’s the other issue at play in the discussion about A-Rod as an all-time Yankee great. There is no question that his offensive numbers were beyond obscene – he is 4th all time in home runs after all – but arguably his three best seasons came in 2001-2033 during his stint with the Rangers (more on that in a minute). Sure, he played twelve seasons in the Bronx but only six more home runs in his Yanks career than he did in his first ten seasons with Seattle and Texas. Same goes for RBIs. From 1994-2003, A-Rod drove in 990 runs. During his time in New York, his RBIs totaled 1,096.

There are those who will argue that those numbers are slightly misleading due to the fact that he missed significant portions of three seasons in New York. If we eliminate those three seasons (2011, 2014 and this, his final season), plus his first two seasons in Seattle where he only played a handful of games, he actually has 21 less homers in New York than his Seattle/Texas. Even if we-introduce his 2011 season, in which he played 99 games, more than half, he still has five homers less than in his first ten years.

But because this is Alex Rodriguez, there is more to his legacy then just his numbers. A whole lot more. Earlier I had postulated that his three seasons in Texas were arguably his greatest statistically. Well those three years also happen to coincide with the years he admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs. Now regardless of the fact that over 5% of all the players in the Mitchell report tested positive and the fact that Jose Canesco was largely correct about his allegations, even if he himself had slightly hypocritical reasons for juicing, that admission will disqualify him from HOF eligibility in the eyes of many of those who cast votes (namely the older ones). And yet, despite his awkwardness with the media and his perceived arrogance when it came to his performance and subsequent admission (and I won’t delve into his Tiger Woodsesque personal life), his justification for using during those years actually rings quite true for many of late-90s/early-2000s era players. He had an “extraordinary pressure to perform”.

Now many might call bullshit on this and fair enough, especially in light of his season-long suspension for his Lance Armstrong-like role in the pervasiveness of PEDs in the first decade of this century. Also, because the league is very, very secretive about the disciplinary processes, it is hard to know exactly what happened. To be completely fair, he was most likely guilty, but also had his suspension reduced.

However, it is my view that what he uttered was not entirely incorrect. Major leaguers do face incredible pressure to succeed beyond the bounds of what any normal being is capable of, especially when they are signed to such ludicrous deals like the one A-Rod signed with Texas prior to the 2001 season and the even bigger one he signed with the Yanks after 2007. ( I could go on about why I think such massive deals are bad for the sport, but that’s another post entirely). When a player is being paid upwards of $20 million a season, the pressure to perform can reach stratospheric heights. This is not to condone Rodriguez’s actions in any way, merely a justification especially given the era in which he was at his best.

Also, regardless of what some thought of his brash ego-centrism in the early part of his career, he seems genuinely remorseful for all that transpired, saying during a press conference “With all my screw-ups and how badly I’ve acted, the fact that I’m walking out the door and Hal wants me as part of the family, that’s [equal to] hitting 800 home runs for me, that’s something I’ll be able to share with my daughters for a long time.” I don’t recall Clemens or Bonds offering that kind of repentance – they also never admitted to any guilt either.

It is a little surprising, some may even argue disrespectful, that Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and the Yankee brass didn’t let Rodriguez finish out the season as teammate Mark Teixeira – who himself announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago – is doing. Perhaps they felt his presence was a distraction. Girardi seemed to indicate his reasoning saying he could tell that A-Rod wasn’t like he was even during the first four months of last year. While that is not an uncommon occurrence for many players, the fact that A-Rod was relegated to either a DH role or the bench left very little room for error. Rodriguez admitted that his relationship with his manager had been “difficult” this season but he knows that they will both eventually make piece with each other.

So what will the legacy of Alex Rodriguez ultimately be? Hard to say. It’s true that he didn’t have the class of fellow-retiree David Ortiz; he wasn’t as exciting to watch as the fun-loving Prince Fielder, whose career was recently and unfortunately cut short. He didn’t fly under-the-radar like his teammate Teixeira. But he was a star. A superstar in fact. Does he deserve to make the Hall Of Fame? Absolutely. Will the voters let him? Well I like to think the answer is yes, the truth is a little more…. complicated.

image courtesy of CNN

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