Another Accolade for A-Rod, Another Reason to say, What if?

Alex Rodriguez passed another accolade this season. His 3,000 hit came on a right-field blast Friday Night in the Bronx. Only a handful have ever accomplished a HR for 3,000. (Jeter and Boggs) Much of A-Rod’s career statistics are on the shortlist and of course, all of them will end with a * next to it. 

I like to tell the following story quite a bit. In fact, I’ve told it before on here, the last time I talked about Alex Rodriguez, or the last guy in the MLB you want to here about right now.

I had a project in 4th grade, it was to write a hand-written letter to someone who inspired you at the time. My love for baseball had been in full swing by the age of 8, and in the spring of 2004, I wrote to Alex Rodriguez, the newly acquired player on my New York Yankees. Even at that age, I was pretty skeptical of getting any sort of response. Right in the thick of the season, the Yankees were pretty freakin’ good that year (Also the year the Red Sox tore my heart out and spit it out with the whole “4 days in October” BS) so I knew the chances were slim.

Then came my first day of 5th grade, and in one of those yellow packaging folders came the last thing I would ever expect.

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It has been more than eleven years since that day, but at the time, I had reached peak elation in my life. I didn’t scream or make a scene in that classroom, the only thing that raced through my mind was a cross between, “my mother definitely pulled a few thousand strings here” and “A-Rod is everything I read in all those autobiographies. First-class superhero to any kid in America.”

In 2005 A-Rod won the MVP and produced the stat-line of  .321/.421/.610 with 48 home runs and 130 RBIs, and here am I thinking, “I’ve won the jackpot with this thing. It’s going to be worth a pretty penny when I get older.”

Those were the days, man. Sure the steroid era was in full effect, with the Clemens trial, and Palmeiro making a fool of himself in court, along with Jose Canseco trying to act as the steroid kingpin. 

But to be completely honest with you, I thought A-Rod and Jeter, the two guys who I whole-heartedly grew up rooting for, were clean. Their names never came up in any reports, well until this happened at least. 

Crushed me in every way possible. I’m talking about same level as Derrick Rose tearing ACL which also known as DEFCON 1  of my sports depressions. By now, we know that A-Rod is guilty, a cheat and yadee-yada-yada. Thankfully, baseball is long past that now. This incredible influx of youthful talent (that I cannot wait to write about) has detoured ourselves away from A-Rod for good, and for many, thankfully.

Jun 19, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. The hit was also the 3000th of his career. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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Alex Rodriguez just hit his 3,000 career hit. By the way of a home run off of Justin Verlander. Sounds awfully similar to this guy hitting a home run for his 3,000 hit. Although, there was no mass hysteria at Yankee Stadium like Jeter’s. People cheered, smiles and hugs all-around, and that was just about it. But it was simply nothing like this.

That’s the price of getting caught using steroids. By now, Rodriguez has come to grips with this reality.

Jeter and A-Rod will be compared to one another forever, because when two transcendent athletes take a professional league by storm, it just happens that way.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Shortstops February 24, 1997 x52191 Credit: Walter Iooss Jr.- contract

No one knows why Rodriguez juiced, he tries to explain it, but even he probably doesn’t even know. This beautifully written ESPN The Magazine story gives incredible insight into that whole process.

But maybe A-Rod looked at his counterpart across the nation and saw all the fame he had already acquired. Derek Jeter, face of the MLB and the great New York Yankees, with all the rings, all the women and all the stats to back it up. Even though Rodriguez, who, playing for the Mariners, didn’t nearly come close to the attention Jeter was getting, was putting up stats never seen in the history of baseball.

Much has been written about how A-Rod has been known for being jealous, always trying to fit in, wanting to be adored on the same level of Jeter, in the simplest terms, just wanted to be liked. I have read plenty of books that have talked about this extensively, Joe Torre’s book, Jeter’s book and so on.

Today, A-Rod is hitting .283/.382/.514, with 14 home runs and 40 RBIs and in many respects, out-performing nearly every prediction for him this season. And best of all, he’s doing it in the least-Alex-Rodriguez way possible. If you read that ESPN The Magazine article (seriously take the 20 to 30 minutes and read it, worth every word) he has humbled himself by going back to college, being there for his girls more, giving back and asking for help.

All of it has led to very few headlines and at most, just the quick SportCenter highlight of, “Oh yeah, Alex Rodriguez just passed Willie Mays on the All-Time Home Run list.” His past antics have warranted this little amount of attention outside of the Bronx. Everyone is done with him, moved on. His 3,000 hit is being taken the same way.

Yet, 3,000 has hit me with a different tone. People are going to look at all the home runs A-Rod will hit and say “Oh, well he was juicing for the majority of those.” And while that might be somewhat accurate, no one really can know for certain, but 3,000 is no joke. For the first time in a very long-time, after awakening from the Alex Rodriguez malaise that I have been in since his year-long suspension, as well as the last time I saw him play in August of 2013, where he was horrifically booed by the Chicago White Sox crowd.

I simply forgot how incredible Alex Rodriguez was at baseball. We forgot. 

All the young kids playing baseball are growing up today with Trout, Harper, Bryant, Stanton, Correa, Buxton, Russell, Pederson and so on. The new wave of baseball, trying to eliminate all the chaos of the era that preceded them, the steroid era. Bonds, Palmeiro, McGuire, Sosa, Canseco, Braun, Clemens and the rest of those named in the Mitchell report. 

But we always remember the best. Better or worse. A-Rod had the season-long suspension, on top of the richest contract in Major League history, (at the time) along with playing for the Yankees and in front of the most ruthless media in the world. The soap opera happened on a grand stage, the grandest of them all in fact.

All the while, we forgot that Alex had pocket aces. And he folded with using steroids.

The 5 tools of baseball that scouts will forever use, regardless of any created statistic during the analytical revolution:

  • Hit for average
  • Hit for power
  • Run
  • Field
  • Throw
  • = Alex Rodriguez

We know he (admittedly) took steroids when he played for the Rangers, and when you look at those stats over that 3-year span, you drool. And then he presumably took more steroids at some point during his tenure with the Yankees. Which leaves us with his beginning years with the Mariners, and I’m fairly certain there was no steroid taking then because you couldn’t convince ’96 A-Rod to eat a ham sandwich.

But even at the age of 20, he finished second in MVP voting, hitting .358/.414/.631 while knocking 36 out of the park and driving in 123. Absolutely unheard of. And don’t forget the ’98 “40 and 40” year, when he hit .310/.360/.560 and hit 42 home runs, 124 RBIs and stole 46 bases. Only 4 guys in the history of the game have done it, and he did it at the time most would be graduating college.

Sure, these young guys that have just entered the league are incredibly talented and their potential is through the roof, but not all of them have the tools that A-Rod was equipped with, especially at such a young age. The most recent draft class featured 8 shortstops chosen in the first round, with the top 3 picks as well being shortstops. We won’t know how good these guys will be, maybe half will make it to the big leagues, but none will be as talented as A-Rod was.

He could of been the greatest player ever. No one will want to admit it now after all the steroids and mass amount of attention he received during his 162-game suspension. Looking back on it, it was probably right the Yanks kept Jeter at short, but watching something like this makes you wish Alex played his entire career at the 6 position.

There’s only 3 guys in the history of major league baseball with 3,000 hits and 600 or more home runs. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez. We will never know for sure, but there’s a pretty good chance he gets these accolades without the steroids, the drama and the over-blown attention.

So when he hit that home run to right field off of Justin Verlander, it was a pretty neat moment, because 3,000 hits doesn’t come along everyday, only 29 guys to do it out of the 18,000 players who have played Major League Baseball over the past century and a quarter. Yet, no one really cares.

And that’s why it is a sad moment. Because you ask, what if? He had pocket aces, all the talent in the world. And when you google “Alex Rodriguez 3,000” more hits come up about the guy that caught the ball, than A-Rod himself.

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There is nothing he can do to change the public’s perception of him now, and he realizes that. That’s why he goes out there everyday with his head down, trying anyway possible to give the organization that is loathing the fact they have to pay him another $61 million over the next 3 years, everything he has to win a few games.

We’re going to remember Rodriguez more for his public downfall and all the mistakes he made, even if he wasn’t the only one, he will be the face of the steroid era, because he was the best among all the cheaters.

But there was a time where he had the potential to be hands down the best infielder (and maybe position player) to ever play the game. There was a time when the scrawny kid from Miami, Florida just wanted to buy his mother a car, naive of the fact that he had the baseball world in his hands.

Pocket aces. What if?

-Goat

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and ESPN.com 

 

 

 

 

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