Few players have simultaneously brought as much dominance, excellence, and and prominence to a professional sport, simultaneously carrying as much controversy, baggage, and polarity, as longtime infielder Alex Rodriguez. In the spirit of Hall of Fame inductions recently, I wanted to delve deeper into the details pertinent to both cases – the arguments for and against – as they extend well beyond the context of “PEDs = bad”.
The argument founded in pure, raw statistical analysis that contends Alex Rodriguez’s career is not one that warrants first-ballot (arguably unanimous) Hall of Fame induction is nonexistent. Look at the following stat line, normalized for a full-season (162-game) average for his 1994-2000 numbers. Then, compare that to the average lines for 2001-2007, and 2008-2016.
1994-2000: 162 games, 129 runs, 39 HR, 28 SB, 64 BB, .309/.374/.561/.935, 138 OPS+
2001-2007: 162 games, 127 runs, 48 HR, 20 SB, 88 BB, .304/.400/.591/.991, 154 OPS+
2008-2016: 162 games, 96 runs, 33 HR, 12 SB, 78 BB, .269/.359/.486/.845, 123 OPS+
A-Rod was not someone who had 4-5 incredible years that made-or-broke his case for the Hall of Fame. By the time he joined New York after 2003, he was already clearly on track to be one of the greatest players of All-Time. Where he falls on that list now is an argument for another article (I’ve got him behind Willie Mays).
Of course, anyone who knows about Rodriguez’s checkered past is well aware that voters’ reservations about checking a box next to his name are hardly related to his ability or talent.
Chronologically, the first black mark is the Texas PED scandal with his cousin. The popular visceral reaction to Rodriguez’s Hall of Fame candidacy says “he broke the rules, and he shouldn’t be inducted”. Except…he didn’t. Sure, a list of banned substances was introduced in 1991 that included the allegedly-used Primobolan (Methenolone), but it wasn’t until after 2003 that the league developed a vested interest in testing players for doping, and it wasn’t until early 2006 that the league commenced to punish for the practice. That’s eye-opening timing, considering it was not only well over a decade after establishing a list of “forbidden products”, but also conveniently occurred at the tail end of the 1998-2002 resurgence of slugging within the game. I’m all for cleaning up the game, and sports in general, but baseball was in the background for years as the Jordan era of football, the Gretzky era of hockey, and the surge of the NFL were all taking place. I have a hard time that with baseball turning a blind eye to this for over a decade, McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, among others who were all at some point linked to banned substances (including Rodriguez), simultaneously led the resurgence of baseball in the public sphere. It paid off, literally, for the league, its owners, its clubs, and its players, but we’re punishing the elite players for something that occurred when the league wasn’t testing for it and was willfully ignoring, even itself profiting from such practice? That doesn’t sit right with me and I believe invalidates this point against Rodriguez for the Hall of Fame.
The other primary controversy of his career came with two components – performance-enhancing substances, and legal/public relations controversy – and this is definitely where the Hall of Fame candidacy becomes more justifiably jeopardized. If we look at the Biogenesis scandal, what was he suspended for? Insulin Growth Factor-1 and Human Growth Hormone, the presence of which was not being tested at the time of usage. He was suspended because it does give him an edge with healing and recovery from injuries based on his age, but was it deemed illegal at the time of substance usage? No. Therefore, in the same vein, was testing in place at the alleged time of usage? No. It was instituted shortly thereafter, but backdating someone’s alleged usage of a substance that was, at the time, perfectly legal, hardy seems a justifiable grounds upon which to bar him from rightful induction. Did Rodriguez make false statements to the public while using these substances and the aforementioned ? Yes. If you look at the possible adverse side effects of the three substances – methenolone, IGF-1, and HGH, where do they all intersect? Aggression, volatile personality, indignant and emboldened denial, and similar erratic behaviors are reported as linked common threads between these substances. In contrast, his 2009 and 2016/2017 interviews, following his bouts with abuse displayed a much more level-headed, team-first, genuine man who expressed regret and remorse for his many transgressions. This must be equally taken into account. Of course, it wasn’t just the substance controversy in which Rodriguez became embroiled throughout the Biogenesis saga. He launched a lawsuit against his own MLB Players’ Association, and vociferously fought the league and the union for several weeks before dropping the matter. There was a volatility, an anger, a pointed vitriol, and a mission to punish everyone who in interviews, which led people to wonder if there was a mental component to this that perhaps connected to his substance abuse.
I’ve wrestled with this polarizing issue at great length. In accordance with the “Baseball Writers Association of America Election Rules”, subsection V, the text dictates: “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.” His record, playing ability, contributions and sportsmanship were scarcely questioned throughout his career. Integrity and character? Is it a breach of integrity to use a substance that was not compulsorily disallowed within Major League Baseball, issue denials that were conceivably the result of a psychological discordance between brain-on-substance and reality, and then issue unwavering apologies once finally achieving abstemiety? That’s for individuals to decide. As a longtime fan of the game attempting to view the situation through an objective lens with respect to both player and league (on- and off-the-field), this is a situation where, I believe, that foundation which is necessary to grant Alex Rodriguez his induction among the veritable pantheon of baseball legends is sufficiently present.