It’s something most sports guys do several times in their life, they engage in a conversation about the “greatest”. An informed individual respects history and it’s greatest figures as they try to build their All-Time lineup. In baseball, you have to consider Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth to make your discussion relevant. Eventually though, you would get to the point of adding a current player. A player that in his career has separated himself from his peers.
It was following the 2002 season, a season in which we saw Alex Rodriguez hit a monstrous 57 homers. He was going to bring respect and honor back to the game following the highly suspicious homerun race of the fabled 1998 season. He had signed his 1/4 Billion Dollar contract and people were now questioning if he was being paid enough. At 26 years of age he already had 298 homers. He just had back-to-back 50 home run seasons. In his first full season in 1996 he hit .358 and won the batting title and hit .300 or better in each season except in 1999, when he hit a respectable .285. On top of all his prowess at the plate, he also just won his first Gold Glove at shortstop. Sure we had Ken Griffey Jr. but he was plagued with hamstring injuries and was not going to break any of the untouchable records. We also had the infamous Barry Bonds, who by this time was as publicly disliked as he was apparently disliked in the clubhouse. He had just come off of hitting his record setting home run mark, despite never hitting 50 hrs in any season…so of course, his accomplishment and extremely recognizable body morph were immediately questioned.
Alex Rodriguez was different. He was a smooth fielding, power hitting, legend in the making. He had caught our attention with the Mariners and was now creating his own mythical baseball career. He had power unlike any other shortstop. By 2002, ARod trailed Cal Ripken Jr.’s 345 HR’s at SS by only 47 (and would pass that mark the following year) and he was only 26. Ripken’s career at short spanned 16 years and Rodriguez was poised to surpass this mark within 7 full seasons! Ripken, like Ozzie Smith, was known more for his defensive gold standard but Rodriguez was not as far behind as doe eyed admirers may believe. The Wizard carried a .9782 fielding percentage and Ripken a .9793….ARod? How about a .9772!
So what happened? How did this sure fire legend, with his monument at Cooperstown already being chiseled in 2002, become such a pariah? Even worse, has he destroyed the game that for a century held our imagination? The game that mere mortals became epic legends with the swing of the bat. We were always taught, numbers don’t lie. Well, they have. The statistics compiled over the last 20 yrs have been a sham. From Ken Caminiti’s 1996 MVP season to Roger Clemens wins to any of the number of home run marks. It’s all been a lie and Alex Rodriguez was my tipping point. In 2002, he was going to be the person that made us forget about McGwire/Sosa and the person that would right the wrong of Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron. He would be the guy who played through the steroid era and would come out the other side with numbers that we could trust. He was youngest player to hit 500 and 600 hrs and now it’s quite ironic that he has been sidelined with a hip injury at the age of 37.
Alex Rodriguez was poised to be on the Mount Rushmore of baseball with the likes of Ruth, Mays, and Cobb. He took the trust that was left for baseball fans and used it to rest his feet upon while signing the 2 largest contracts in sports history. He was the person that made us realize that the history was just that, history. It no longer was America’s Past time because all the heroics were manufactured in a lab. We have sadly almost become numb to the idea of steroids as we regularly are introduced to a Balco, a Bio-Genesis, or some other scandal every couple of years. Alex Rodriguez was going to be the reason to remain nostalgic. In 2009, he finally admitted to rampant PED use during his career. He was the last hope I had in a game that held such high regard in my heart. The game that I studied my whole life. The game that traditions were of the utmost importance. It’s all gone for me. If he had any respect for the game that has made him wealthy beyond means, despite his cheating, he would simply walk away. His insistence not to go away has been the final blow. What does he hope to gain? Does he think that people will welcome him back in his chase to 700? They probably will, but I won’t. He will not care and will take his 160k a game pay check with a cheeky grin only a thief could appreciate. He has stolen the remaining sanctity of the game with his inability to accept his consequence.
Alex Rodriguez has destroyed baseball for me. I will still root on the my team but until this era is well in the rear view, I will not anoint another player as the greatest. It’s all been a sham.