Alex Rodriguez's Hall of Fame career tainted by PED questions, suspension
With the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame class set to be announced on Jan. 25, USA TODAY Sports is breaking down the candidacies of some of the top players on the ballot.
From the moment he signed his first professional contract, Alex Rodriguez seemed destined for a place in Cooperstown. One of the most polished five-tool prospects ever, he was the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Seattle Mariners out of high school in 1993.
He made his major league debut just a year later and helped give the franchise instant respectability. He won the American League batting title in 1996 with a .358 average and finished second in the MVP voting – at age 20.
A free agent at 24, Rodriguez signed the largest contract in pro sports history, a 10-year, $250 million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2001. He seemed well on his way to justifying it by leading the AL in home runs in each of his first three seasons in Texas and winning his first AL MVP award in 2003. However, the Rangers remained in the AL West cellar and Rodriguez was traded to the New York Yankees with seven years still remaining on his landmark deal.
In New York, A-Rod achieved even greater fame, made even more money and put up even bigger numbers. He had his best season in 2007, hitting .314, leading the AL in both home runs (54) and RBI (156), and winning a third MVP. He opted out of his original record-breaking contract to re-sign with the Yankees and set a new standard with a 10-year, $275 million deal.
However, his body began to break down in his late 30s and he was suspended for the entire 2014 season for violating MLB’s drug policy, casting a long shadow on his legacy.
Over 22 seasons in the majors, Rodriguez hit .295 with a .380 on-base percentage and 696 career home runs, the fourth-most in baseball history behind only Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth.
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The case for
Not just a prodigious home run hitter, Rodriguez could do everything well on the diamond. He won two Gold Gloves for his defense at shortstop and a total of 10 Silver Sluggers (seven at short and three at third base) for his offense.
His lengthy career allowed him to pile up amazing totals: 3,115 hits (22nd all-time), 2,021 runs (8th), 2,086 RBI (4th) and 5,813 total bases (7th). Plus, he had 329 career steals.
Rodriguez was named to the All-Star team 14 times in addition to his three MVPs and he was a member of the Yankees’ 2009 World Series champions.
His 117.5 Wins Above Replacement ranks 12th among position players in baseball history.
The case against
If there was one criticism of Rodriguez as a player, it’s that he was great during the regular season but frequently came up short in the playoffs . Indeed, he did go through a cringe-worthy 4-for-47 postseason slump from 2004-07. In 2009, however, he was a driving force behind the Yankees winning the World Series, hitting .365 in the playoffs with six homers and 18 RBI. (Before going back to a .152/.250/.177 hitter in his final 22 postseason appearances.)
But numbers, even cherry-picked ones, are not the basis for denying Rodriguez a bust in Cooperstown. He admitted publicly that he used performance-enhancing drugs as a young player with the Rangers, partly to help him live up to the enormously high expectations that came with his record-setting contract.
He allegedly received a therapeutic exemption that allowed him to use testosterone during his MVP-winning 2007 season. And a lengthy MLB investigation determined that he purchased and used PEDs from a Miami clinic for a three-year period between 2010 and 2012. For that, he received a record 211-game suspension (later reduced to 162 games), which resulted in him sitting out the entire 2014 season.
Not surprisingly, those incidents have cast a cloud of suspicion over an entire career’s worth of accomplishments.
In his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Rodriguez is showing a level of support on par with Manny Ramirez, another player suspended for PED violations late in his career.
In Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame vote tracker , Rodriguez is listed on 40.9% of the 161 public ballots, virtually assuring that he will not be part of the Class of 2022.
History is fairly kind to players who crack the 40% mark in their first year of eligibility. However, Rodriguez’s case is a considerably different. Like Bonds, his list of accomplishments put him among the greatest to ever play the game. In addition, his connection to PEDs will keep a significant portion of the voters from ever checking his name.
Ultimately, Rodriguez seems destined for a Bonds-like slog for the entirety of his 10 years on the Hall of Fame ballot – with his greatness on the field acknowledged, but his transgressions off the field denying him entrance.
Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Rodriguez's Hall of Fame career tainted by PED questions, suspension