The sports news cycle is always an interesting one. Today, Pudge Rodriguez officially announced his retirement from baseball. Like most modern players, you get the idea that he could play and wanted to play, but teams are becoming more and more skittish about adding aging veterans to their squad. Part of that is the increasing money involved and part of that is as old as the game itself.
Rodriguez has a lot of pride. Anyone in his position should have a lot of pride. I’m sure there were opportunities for him to be a backup in some places and others may have offered him a non-guaranteed spot. A sure Hall of Famer doesn’t want to take that and they really shouldn’t have to. Like most modern athletes, he has plenty of money in the bank and the last thing we want to see are aging athletes killing their legacy by playing beyond their usefulness.
The Hall of Fame Index was published by IUniverse last year and represents most of my life’s work in terms of statistics. Today, the news cycle (and Twitter cycle) is about Pudge the player. I hesitate to move on to other things, so I’ll begin by talking about his place in history. According to the index, Pudge is by far the greatest defensive catcher in the game’s history. No matter how you want to break it down (whether it be career value or peak value), there is no peer and probably never will be one in the near future.
Offensively, he comes up a little short of the all-time greats mostly because he never learned how to take a walk. Baseball will always be an offensively dominated game and therefore, he fits comfortably in the top five, but will never claim the top spot. In the long run, that’s fine. After all, only one guy can claim the top spot at each position. Two players have been nicknamed Pudge and between them they amassed more than 4500 games caught and combined for more than 4000 hits and 500 home runs. That’s a pretty good legacy.
It remains to be seen how long it will take the Pudge love to die down and the other stuff to enter the discussion. Simply put, we cannot discuss his place in history without addressing the 10,000 pound elephant in the room. Rodriguez is the perfect example of how performance enhancing drugs permeates every discussion about the modern baseball player. Somehow, a player that never tested positive for anything will be put through the shredder. Just imagine the mountains of circumstantial evidence that will come out.
First, he played an awfully long time and had a remarkable record of good health. Most modern athletes take PEDs not to get stronger per se, but to recover faster from injury. So, we see he already has one phantom strike against him. Secondly, he began his career as a light hitting defensive whiz and somehow turned himself into a legitimate power threat. Normally, we would chalk that up to hard work and dedication, but the modern sportswriter has to raise the question in their mind if there is something else going on. That’s the phantom strike two.
Finally, we get the guilt by association game. He came up and played with the likes of Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro. In the mid 1990s, Rodriguez developed into the solid hitter people remember. Some observers will consider that to be too much of a coincidence. The combination of these three strikes is both compelling and dangerous at the same time. It sounds like a lot and seems logical, but when you break them all down individually you can see how flimsy the argument is as well.
The 10,000 pound elephant has a baby brother. That would be in the shape of the 2003 pilot testing for the PED program. 103 players tested positive without being punished. We know Alex Rodriguez is on that list because someone leaked his name. The list was supposed to be destroyed, but a comedy of errors keeps it alive. All MLB employees are barred from releasing names, but that obviously didn’t stop someone from releasing Arod’s name. Will someone magically reveal IRod to be one of those 103? Only time will tell.
Before we continue with a witch hunt we have to remember a few things. First, when you are talking legacies, it is dangerous to assume anything without hard facts to back it up. As Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will attest, damage to one’s legacy doesn’t go away. In their case, there seems to be harder evidence that they circumvented the rules. In Rodriguez’s case, we only have conjecture.
The second thing we must remember with his legacy is that it is largely built on his defense. His defense was always elite. When he came up he was the best defender at the position that anyone had seen. Maybe if he didn’t become a good hitter he wouldn’t have played for more than twenty seasons. Still, it is safe to assume he would have been a regular and a multiple Gold Glove winner. So, he deserves that legacy no matter what happens from here to his induction. We can assume his induction will take place in 2017 when he becomes eligible. I for one will be applauding whether the witch hunt commences or not.