Like It or Not, Alex Rodriguez Is One of the Best Players Ever
Cutting to the chase, this isn't going to be another "should Alex Rodriguez make the Hall of Fame" pieces, because spoiler alert, he won't be elected.
If other players with ties to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) who have Hall of Fame-worthy resumes have taught us anything, it's that the voters won't be letting them in anytime soon.
However, Rodriguez's failure to be enshrined forever with a gold bust in Cooperstown shouldn't be the focal point of his legacy. Instead, he should be remembered as one of the greatest players of all-time.
One of the All-Time Greats
His résumé speaks for itself: 3 MVP awards, including seven other times finishing within the top-10, 2 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star appearances, 10 Silver Slugger awards and a World Series ring. Not to mention being one of four players ever to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season, or being tied for the most consecutive seasons with 30 home runs and 100 RBI at 13 with Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, two guys you might be familiar with.
In addition to all that, no one has hit more career grand slams (25) than Rodriguez, and at 32 years, 8 days old, he is the youngest ever to reach 500 home runs.
Rodriguez' list of accomplishments is endless, and he started accumulating them immediately into his big-league career. In 1996, his first full season in the Majors as a 20 year-old, Rodriguez led baseball in batting average (.358) and doubles (54), while also swatting 36 home runs. His wins above replacement (fWAR), according to FanGraphs, was a whopping 9.2 that season, which was only bested by teammate Ken Griffey Jr., who posted a 9.7 fWAR.
Speaking of fWAR, Rodriguez currently has a career total of 112.9, which is good for 13th-best all-time among hitters, even with posting a -1.2 fWAR this season. His career mark is superior to the the likes of Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Frank Robinson, and Cal Ripken Jr. just to name a few, and he's one of only 20 hitters to tally 100 fWAR or better for their career.
For those who prefer wins above replacement via Baseball Reference (bWAR), Rodriguez stacks up among the best ever in that category as well. His 117.8 bWAR is 16th best, including pitchers. He averaged a bWAR of 7.8 for 13 seasons from 1996 through 2008, before averaging a respectable 3.0 bWAR in his last six seasons entering 2016. Rodriguez's average bWAR in his first 13 seasons was only bested by Derek Jeter once in his career (8.0 in 1999), and he only broke the 6.5 bWAR mark one other time (7.5 in 1998). More on Jeter later.
With numerous Hall of Famers behind A-Rod on both career WAR lists, his position among the best ever should be as solid as it gets. But it's not.
What first comes to mind when thinking of Rodriguez? The PED allegations and his suspension? His blemishes on the field including getting shoved in the face by Jason Varitek, yelling "Ha, I got it!" at Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Howie Clark and causing him to take his eye off the ball, or slapping Bronson Arroyo's glove during Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship collapse for the New York Yankees?
Or is it his off-the-field life? Things like the infamous picture of him kissing himself in a mirror (something he openly regrets doing), or his flings with various celebrities? Are there any positive thoughts or do his mistakes stand out more prominently than his successes on the field? I'm guessing for most of us, the initial thought has something to do with one of his mistakes.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to say that A-Rod never messed up, but I will argue that we should be able to look past his imperfections and recognize the kind of once-in-a-generational kind of talent he was. It's understandable why some might not be able to, and also why to some, the name A-Rod carries negative connotations. It's difficult to think of a more polarizing athlete that played during his career. But polarizing shouldn't mean ignoring his accomplishments, even if that's what the Yankees did, and are still doing.
A-Rod's Tenure With New York
Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees after the 2003 season, which, considering how he performed for the Texas Rangers that year, was the type of move we may never see again. He won his first MVP award after hitting 47 home runs with a .416 wOBA -- which shockingly was lower than what he posted in each of the three previous seasons -- and his second consecutive Gold Glove at shortstop, posting a 10.1 UZR/150, which ranked third best among shortstops that season.
The Yankees already had a shortstop of their own in Jeter, but his -5.5 UZR/150 was third-worst among qualified shortstops in 2003. With an opening at third base, the most obvious decision -- from a strictly baseball standpoint -- was to shift the defensively declining Jeter to third and let the best player in the American League in A-Rod take over at shortstop. That's obviously not what happened, but similar to how Rodriguez's career played out, it's what should have happened.
A-Rod respectfully moved to third base and didn't stop producing. He posted a wOBA of .379 or better in his first six seasons in New York, while also mixing in two years with an fWAR over 9.0. Rodriguez only had nine seasons with the Yankees in which he tallied more than 500 plate appearances, but that didn't stop him from joining their all-time ranks, even in some of the counting statistics.
Alex Rodriguez - Yankees Ranks
HR 351 6th
Slug Pct .523 6th
AB per HR 15.9 5th
RBI 1,094 11th
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 7, 2016
With this impressive status among baseball's most storied franchise, you would think that he would be allowed to finish his tenure with the club as he saw fit, especially in a lost season (the Yankees traded away their best players at the deadline and are currently only two games above .500). A-Rod apparently asked to play third base in his final game with the Yankees on Friday, but his manager, Joe Girardi, refused to allow it, instead keeping Rodriguez in his normal designated hitter role. It's a disrespectful move to a guy who has more than earned the right to take the field one last time, and whose passion for the game is well-known, even by Girardi.
"He has a love for this game as much as any person I’ve ever met. Teaching becomes natural."--Girardi on A-Rod
— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) August 7, 2016
Girardi's decision is apparently based on fielding the team with the best chance at winning, which is hypocritical considering he let Jeter walk to the plate 634 times in 2014 -- his final season -- when keeping him in the lineup was detrimental. Jeter's .279 wOBA was seventh-worst among qualified hitters, and he posted a -0.1 fWAR on the year.
Rodriguez deserves better, but unfortunately, it's easy to understand why things haven't gone the way they should. He's been easy to dislike for the majority of his career, and those who are on his side now seem to be there only out of compassion. Many will look to his PED ties and claim all of his accomplishments come with an asterisk.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the era he played in was riddled with steroid use, and every era has its own version of trying to gain a competitive advantage.
Sadly for A-Rod, he'll be remembered by most as a cheater instead of what he truly is: one of the best we've ever seen cross the white lines and step onto the diamond.