Quick, name the player:
He has won two Gold Gloves, three Most Valuable Player Awards, 10 Silver Sluggers and has been named to 14 All-Star Games. He led the league in batting average, runs scored, and total bases when he was just 21 years old, and has topped the circuit in home runs five times since then. He scored at least 100 runs in 13 straight seasons and collected at least 100 RBIs in a span of 14 out of 15 seasons. He was also handed a 10-year, $252 million contract during the 2000-2001 offseason and has batted .190, .111, .125, and .111 in his four postseason series.
Yes, it’s Alex Rodriguez. You didn’t even need me to mention Biogenesis, did you?
Try this one:
He was one-dimensional, a fine hitter but disinterested in running or fielding. He’s considered his team’s star player, but he only led the club to one playoff berth in 19 years. In that one postseason appearance, he batted .200 with five measly singles and one RBI, and his team lost. He won two Triple Crowns – and yet he didn’t win the Most Valuable Player Award in either season. He was noted for his irascible nature, feuding with media and fans alike.
He was Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter.
It is true, there are distinct differences between the two of them. A-Rod receives far too much of the media spotlight; Williams’ headlines were dwarfed by Joe DiMaggio. A-Rod is unlikable and disingenuous; Williams was a World War II and Korean War fighter pilot. (Also, at last check, A-Rod’s head is apparently still atop his shoulders while Ted’s head is detached from his body and cryogenically frozen.)
Between the white lines, though, Rodriguez has seemingly done far more to help his teams win, taking into account his baserunning and his defense. And, yes, it is far easier to make the playoffs now than it was during Ted Williams’ day, but Rodriguez has one championship ring to Williams’ none and 11 playoff berths to the Splendid Splinter’s one. Ted Williams also spat toward the fans and media; A-Rod has not done so, as of yet.
A person’s legacy is a peculiar thing. A reasonable baseball fan would declare that Williams was one of the 10 best baseball players who ever lived – perhaps even one of the five best. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb are up there, with Barry Bonds hovering around nebulously, depending on your ethical perspective, and Honus Wagner jockeying with a host of others, including the game’s best pitchers, for pole position. A reasonable fan would also likely disparage A-Rod as overrated.
All of this is true about Ted Williams – he was a hitter, nothing more; he never won anything; and he aimed saliva and profanity at newspapermen and fans – yet none of it detracts from his greatness, much the same way that Ty Cobb’s hateful, racist, pugnacious nature does not detract from the Georgia Peach’s own titanic impact upon the game.
And then there is Alex Rodriguez. How on earth do we reconcile A-Rod’s legacy?
Years into the future, anyone who looks at his statistics will consider him to be one of the game’s greatest players: a top notch hitter, slugger, defender and base runner who stood out above his peers even in a slugfest of an era.
Yet anyone watching baseball now, watching Alex Rodriguez actually play, would want virtually any other batter at the plate in a key spot rather than A-Rod. Eduardo Nunez? Sure! At least he’s not guaranteed to strike out!
I was stunned recently while rewatching the 2006 World Baseball Classic to discover that it was none other than Rodriguez who came through with a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to lift the USA over Japan. Surely the hero would be another player – Derek Jeter, or Ken Griffey, Jr., or Chipper Jones. It had become ingrained in my baseball mindset that A-Rod is “unclutch”, that he could never rise to the occasion in a crucial moment. But he did.
As it turned out, Japan would go on to win both the 2006 and 2009 WBC titles, losing only five total games during those triumphant runs. Four of those defeats were to arch-rival Korea. The fifth came at the hands of Alex Rodriguez.
Yes, Alex Rodriguez is a cheater, a liar, and an admitted juicer. Yes, he is horrendously overpaid, his name came up on the Biogenesis list, and he has struggled miserably in the past three playoffs to the extent that Joe Girardi benched him.
Just don’t forget that he’s still one of the finest baseball players of all time.
On Baseball-Reference.com, according to the Fan EloRater, A-Rod is placed as the baseball’s 23rd-best position player ever, ranking behind Cal Ripken, Jr., Carl Yastrzemski and Eddie Collins. This is absurd. Ripken, Yaz, and Collins all put forth long, illustrious careers and garnered far more respect than Rodriguez both on and off the field, but none of the trio produced the numbers that A-Rod has compiled. His statistical resume continues to speak eloquently and powerfully for itself, even if Rodriguez struggles personally to do the same.