HOF Case: Alex Rodriguez
Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez is now in his second year on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. On his first year on the ballot last year, Rodriguez garnered 34.3 percent of the vote. In a year that saw David Ortiz the only inductee, and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens falling off the ballot, the voting system couldn't be more flawed. With the Miami native's steroid history, he is a very complicated case for Cooperstown. Should A-Rod make the Hall of Fame?
Rodriguez was drafted by the Seattle Mariners first overall in the 1993 MLB Draft out of Westminster Christian School in Miami, Florida. As one of the most highly-touted prospects ever, he moved swiftly through the minor leagues and made his debut on July 8, 1994. Still just 18 years old until July 27, Rodriguez played in only 17 games that season and his rookie status was intact for the 1995 season. His cup of coffee didn't go great and neither did the 1995 season where he only played in 48 more games. But he really came into his own in 1996 when he made his first All-Star team and was the runner-up for American League MVP. He led the majors in doubles (54) and batting average (.358), and the AL in runs (141) and total bases (379), while also having a 9.2 fWAR. Rodriguez made three more All-Star teams as a Mariner and four silver sluggers. In 1998, he stole 46 bases which combined with his 42 homers, made him just the third player to produce a 40-40 season after Jose Canseco and Bonds. His highest OPS+ in Seattle was 163 in 2000, and he had over 30 homers four times. After the 2000 season, the shortstop entered the free agent market for the first time and thus earned the richest contract in baseball history at the time from the Texas Rangers, a 10-year, $252 million deal.
Rodriguez had a brief stint with the Rangers, as he spent the next three seasons there. But he also missed just one game over those three years, coming in his first MVP season of 2003. Over those three years, he hit 52, 57, and 47 homers, respectively, which led the majors in 2002 and 2003 and the AL in 2001. He also led the AL in runs scored (124) and slugging (.600) in his 2003 MVP season while posting a 9.2 fWAR. Rodriguez was the runner-up for the MVP in 2002 when he had a career-high 10 fWAR and a 158 wRC+. He was a silver slugger winner in all three seasons in Texas and a gold glove winner in 2002 and 2003. After the 2003 season, the New York native was traded to the Yankees for a player to be named later (turned out to be Joaquin Arias) and Alfonso Soriano. It was a very light return for a player coming off an MVP season, not even mentioning the fact that the Rangers sent $67 million to the Yankees along with A-Rod.
The trade almost never happened, but Aaron Boone, slated to be the Yankees starting third baseman, tore his ACL in January. That after Boone was forever put into Yankee lore when he sent the Yankees to the 2003 World Series with his dramatic walk-off homer against their bitter rival Boston Red Sox. Rodriguez would have no choice to change to third base, with Derek Jeter being the Yankees starting shortstop, despite Rodriguez being the superior defender. The transition to third went smoothly as he posted 14 defensive runs saved in his first season in pinstripes and a 6.6 fWAR, along with 36 homers and 28 stolen bases. That season was viewed as a "down" year and was clearly not a bad season, but then he turned in another MVP season in 2005.
Once again playing in all 162 games for the third time in his career, Rodriguez led the AL in homers for the fourth time with 48 long balls. His .610 slugging percentage, 1.031 OPS, 173 OPS+, and 9.4 bWAR all led the AL, along with a massive 174 wRC+ (a career-high at the time). Rodriguez made the All-Star team for each of the first five seasons in the Bronx and made nine straight from 2000-08. He had another non-MVP type season in 2006, but still had a 136 wRC+ and 134 OPS+. Then in 2007, he put up his best season as Yankee and won his third MVP at 31 years old. He led the AL with a career-high 54 bombs, 143 runs, 156 RBI, .645 slugging, 1.067 OPS, 176 OPS+, and 376 total bases. Rodriguez upped himself with a career-high 175 wRC+.
After that season, he opted out of the final three years of his contract and a reunion with the Yankees was in doubt. But instead, the Scott Boras client wound up signing another record deal for 10 years, $275 million. The only time after his final MVP season of 2007 in which he led the AL in an offensive category was when he posted a .573 slugging in 2008, in which he missed 21 games at the start of the season. While he was widely criticized for his postseason performance throughout his career up to that point, Rodriguez was a major contributor the the Yankees' 28th World Series championship in 2009. Prior to that season, in February, was when the bombshell report came out about his suspected performance-enhanced drug use. Before we get to that, let's talk about his numbers in the postseason. Best to save the steroids for later and what impact that will have on his case for the Hall.
In the 2009 postseason, Rodriguez made up for missed time during the season due to undergoing surgery on a torn labrum on his right hip. In the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins and the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels, he went 14-for-32 (.438) with five homers and 12 RBI. He had a number of clutch moments, including a game-tying two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS off Joe Nathan, a game-tying solo homer in the seventh inning of Game 3 and a game-tying solo homer in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS. Rodriguez sparked a comeback in Game 3 of the World Series as well, with a two-run bomb off Cole Hamels, then drove in the go-ahead run in the form of Johnny Damon in Game 4. He reached base in all four plate appearances of the clinching Game 6 to finish the postseason slashing .365/.500/.808 line with six homers and 18 RBI. The 15-year veteran infielder finally got his World Series ring to add to an already impressive resume, statistically at least. A-Rod would make two more All-Star Games, in 2010 and 2011, but injuries, age, and diminished numbers made his final six seasons mostly forgettable.
Well, not completely forgettable, but not memorable in the way that anyone wants. In 2010, he still kept his 30 homer, 100 RBI streak alive as he put up those numbers for the 13th straight season. He mashed 30 taters and recorded 125 RBI while posting a still respectable 123 OPS+, but missed time due to a left calf strain. Then in 2011, Rordriguez played just 99 games as he underwent in-season surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. He would miss six more weeks in 2012 due to a fracture in his left hand, then got benched in the postseason. In December he was diagnosed with a torn labrum, bone impingement, and a cyst in his left hip and didn't return until August 2013. He missed all of the 2014 season after the Biogenesis scandal, which we will go through in full detail, then made a productive return in 2015. The then-39-year old transitioned to a full-time designated hitter and hit a team-high 33 homers which was his most since 2008. He also played in his most games since 2007 at 151 and collected his 3,000th career hit via a homer off future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander. Only needing 13 more homers to reach 700 career bombs in 2016, the productivity fell off big time. Rodriguez hit just .200/.247/.351 with nine homers in 65 games while dealing with oblique and hamstring issues. In August, he agreed to retire and accept a position as a special advisor through the 2017 season and be paid out the remainder of his deal.
What Helps His Case
Rodriguez finished his career with 696 homers, which ranked fourth at the time before Albert Pujols crossed the 700 career home run mark in 2022. Thanks to a 22-year career, the now part-owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves is high on several other statistical leaderboards. He ranks fourth in RBI (2.086), fifth in strikeouts (2,287), seventh in total bases (5,813), eighth in runs scored (2,021). His career fWAR of 113.7 also ranks 13th all-time, while his 117.6 career bWAR ranks 12th, both second among shortstops behind only Honus Wagner. Since he played more games at shortstop than third base (1,272 games to 1,194 games), he is classified as a shortstop and he recorded more value there. From 1994-2003, he was worth 63.6 bWAR and 54.0 the rest of his career which also saw him play 293 games as a DH. Rodriguez is also ranked right behind Wagner in peak WAR - 64.3 to 65.3 - and JAWS - 90.9 to 98.0. He is one of just seven players all-time to record at least 500 homers and 3,000 hits, as you can see in the table below.
From a numbers standpoint, Rodriguez would have unequivocally been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Let's get into why that wasn't the case, and what will hurt him in even getting in at all.
What Hurts His Case
So, now we get to the massive steroid-sized elephant in the room. As we saw with Bonds, Clemens, and others - but for whatever reason not Ortiz, a first ballot inductee - voters will put on their "integrity" hats and not vote for Rodriguez. Now maybe it's somewhat warranted with the star turned villain, who actually received a suspension for failing a PED test, while Bonds and Clemens were suspected of use but never had to take an official test from the league. In February of 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that Rodriguez was one of 104 players that failed a 2003 survey test, which was done to determine if official testing was warranted. He had tested positive testosterone and an orally ingested anabolic steroid known by the brand name Primobolan, according to the report. Soon thereafter, Rodriguez admitted to using steroids during his three seasons in Texas, and was a young and naive player that just wanted to be great. The interesting part of all this is that in the coming months, Big Papi was also identified as failing the test as well. Ortiz gets a pass and is treated as some folk hero, while Bonds, Clemens, and A-Rod are treated like villians. Now, this report wasn't the end for Rodriguez and his tarnished legacy. It was only the beginning. But even before we get into that, it just seems unfair that these same voters who are all about integrity have voted in other players who may have taken PEDs before, and even allowed steroid use to happen while looking the other way. This of course being former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who turned a blind eye to the Steroid Era during his run from 1998-2015.
The next shoe to drop came in January, 2013 when Miami New Times published a report implicating over a dozen players including Rodriguez and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers as having obtained PEDs from Biogenesis. In July, MLB handed down suspensions to the implicated players, which included a 65-game suspension for Braun. Rodriguez received a 211-game suspension, which included the remainder of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season. He immediately appealed and was able to play the rest of the season, then wound up getting it reduced to 162 games after the 2013 season was completed. During the appeal, it was revealed that Rodriguez had failed 11 drug tests from 2010-12.
I can understand voters' viewpoints if they voted for non-suspended players like Bonds and Clemens but not players that were suspended like Rodriguez (who also admitted to usage). But most voters just villainize everyone and anyone that had any sort of connection to PEDs. To tell the story of baseball, which is the Hall of Fame's job, you need to have the best of every era, including the Steroid era. Bonds is the leader of that era as one of the top players of all-time with and without steroids, and A-Rod is one of the greatest all-around shortstops of all-time. Rodriguez has an uphill battle to Cooperstown after starting his candidacy at just 34.3 percent in 2022. As of January 7, he is tracking at 45.7 percent for this year's ballot with 32.7 percent of the ballots known. It looks like he could make a jump this year, and could potentially make a run at getting in within the 10 years. But, it just doesn't seem likely unless the voters suddenly change their mindsets on steroid users (or suspected users) not named David Ortiz. It definitely won't happen this year, that's a certainty. But yours truly would vote for him if I had a vote.