Thursday, January 20, 2022

Four reasons why Alex Rodriguez’s Hall of Fame case is so complicated

Perhaps of you will scoff when I say this (from either side of the discussion): Alex Rodriguez has a very complicated Hall of Fame case. 

Gimme a break, Matt! It’s very simple!, they’ll cry from the hills. Maybe they are right. 

On one side …

Drafted first overall out of high school in 1993, one of the top prospects baseball has ever seen debuted in 1994 at age 18. Expectations were immense. By his age-20 season, A-Rod finished second in AL MVP voting after winning the batting title and leading the league in runs, doubles and total bases. He would end up winning three MVPs, two Gold Gloves, 10 Silver Sluggers and making 14 All-Star teams. He led his league in runs five times, hits once, doubles once, home runs five times, RBI twice, slugging four times, OPS twice, OPS+ twice, total bases four times and WAR five times. 

There’s a lot more and we’ll get to that, but that isn’t a complicated Hall of Fame case, right? That’s an easy yes. 

On the other …

Rodriguez missed the entire 2014 season due a suspension by Major League Baseball for the use and possession of PEDs “over the course of multiple years” along with attempting to cover this up and obstruct the attempts by MLB to investigate, per the league. 

That’s a deal-breaker and a no for the naysayers here. So it is, as I said above, not very complicated for many people. 

No, my hunch is that for a large majority of the people in the baseball world who care about the Hall of Fame, A-Rod is either an easy yes or easy no without much additional thought. I wouldn’t blame anyone. There’s compelling evidence on each side. 

For me, it’s very complicated. I’ll try to run it down with four reasons below. Yeah, I just heard Yoda scold me with, “No! Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try,” but that’s just how complicated this is.

1. A-Rod never tested positive under the JDA

I’ve said for years that if a player tested positive and was suspended under the Joint Drug Agreement once it was put in place, he’d be a no for me when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. If not, I’m not going to worry about it. Back when the league was purposely turning its head, so was I, in effect. That means I’ve long been a yes on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, was a yes on Mark McGwire and, well, you get the idea. I’m also a no on Manny Ramirez, was a no on Rafael Palmeiro and will be a no on Robinson Cano

I have a clear line. 

Or so I thought. Enter the case of A-Rod. 

I don’t care about the 2003 test in which the league was seeing if there was a problem it needed to address. A few names were leaked regarding players who allegedly tested positive, but we never saw an exhaustive list that was supposed to remain confidential. We can’t be sure how accurate any of that limited report is. The JDA was implemented for the 2004 season, so that’s where we start. 

From there, A-Rod never tested positive for any banned substance. 

2. There are questions about MLB’s investigation

Major League Baseball went into overdrive regarding investigations of Rodriguez following multiple reports early in 2013 tying him to the Biogenesis scandal. In its efforts to catch Rodriguez and anyone else caught up with the clinic, the league sued Biogenesis and later paid former employees for documents, per a New York Times report

I can’t find anything in the JDA that says the league can pay people not associated with the league in order to run down evidence to be used to punish players. 

Other players were suspended through this MLB investigation, from bigger names like Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and Yasmani Grandal on down to lesser-known players like Sergio Escalona, Jordany Valdespin and Jordan Norberto. 

But it’s pretty obvious how we got there, right? After the initial Miami New Times story, MLB was interested in making A-Rod — and Braun, after the way his case went down — a primary target. I have no doubt that Bud Selig and his administration would deny this, but it sure looks like they were chasing down specific players. 

It doesn’t help that MLB fired the top Biogenesis investigator and four others from the department the in 2014. The Miami New Times, which originally broke the Biogenesis story that caused the launch of this investigation, reported the following on said investigation: 

But to gather that evidence, the investigators played dirty. They paid cash in the back of SUVs. They threatened witnesses. They bought evidence stolen in a daylight parking lot robbery. The team’s leader even had a sexual relationship with a potential witness.

Simply, there was all kinds of shadiness around the suspension of A-Rod. 

Maybe it’s worth mention right here that the commissioner at the time, Selig, is in the Hall of Fame. 

3. He has one of the best on-field resumes ever

Considering how many lesser-performing players over the years have been nailed for PEDs — sometimes we only remember the big names, but players all over the board get caught, including in the lowest levels of the minors — A-Rod’s career might illustrate that he was an obvious Hall of Fame player even without any PEDs. 

His numbers are that of an inner-circle all-time great. Let’s run through some.

  • A-Rod is eighth in career runs and fourth in RBI. The only other players with at least 2,000 runs and 2,000 RBI are Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. 
  • He’s fourth in homers after Bonds, Aaron and Ruth. 
  • He has over 3,000 hits (22nd all-time). He’s seventh in total bases after Aaron, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Bonds and Ty Cobb. He’s seventh in extra-base hits and 16th in times on base. 
  • He’s also 33rd in doubles, 27th in slugging and 41st in OPS. 
  • Among position players in baseball history, A-Rod is 12th in WAR, behind Bonds, Ruth, Mays, Cobb, Aaron, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins and Ted Williams. He’s ahead of Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and a host of other all-timers. 
  • In splitting his career between shortstop and third, we could look at JAWS for both positions. At short, he trails only Wagner. At third base, he’d be the best third baseman in history by this measure, topping Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews with relative ease. 
  • For years, the knock on A-Rod was the postseason. He won a ring in 2009 while hitting .365/.500/.808 that postseason. He hit a big two-run homer in Game 3 and then a tie-breaking, RBI double with two outs in the ninth in Game 4 to help push the Yankees to a 3-1 series lead. 

All this is to say that if there exists an argument that non-Hall-worthy players could use PEDs and push themselves into Hall of Fame territory, it doesn’t apply here. He didn’t need the boost to clear the Hall of Fame threshold. 

By any measure, A-Rod was one of the top 20 — or better — position players in baseball history. 

4. He still knowingly cheated

Of course, due to the Biogenesis scandal, Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension was shortened to 162 by MLB’s appointed arbitrator. Once he returned, he apologized and vowed he would stay clean. This was tantamount to an admission. 

So while we can talk about the investigation — and I truly believe it was closer to a witch hunt — at the end of the day, we’re still left with a player who was knowingly skirting the rules and doing so for years after he said he wouldn’t (once the story on 2003 broke, he admitted he used PEDs from 2001-03 but alleged that he stopped after that and wouldn’t do them ever again). 

This is where many would invoke the character clause on the Hall of Fame voting rules. 

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.  

I think in considering everything we’ve discussed, A-Rod’s record and playing ability send him into the Hall of Fame as fast as anyone, but then we’re left discussing his integrity, sportsmanship and character. I’ve also written extensively in the past how much a slippery slope using the character clause is and how many players with either questionable or bad character are already in the Hall

So … yeah. Are we right back where we started? Am I wrong for thinking it’s complicated? 

It’s entirely possible. Maybe it is just as simple as either letting his numbers carry the day or hunkering down on the PEDs. To me, there doesn’t seem like an absolutely correct answer. 

I’m just not sure. 

I am, however, sure that A-Rod is going to get somewhere between five and 75 percent of the vote this winter, which means we’ll be discussing him again next year. And then likely the year after that. And then the next year…

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