Alex Rodriguez: How Should We Evaluate His Career?

Owen Poindexter
A-Rod just turned 38, and if the suspension is unchanged, he will return to baseball in his age 40 season. There is no denying that since he became a fulltime player in 1996, A-Rod has been one of the best players of his generation.

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Alex Rodriguez is nearing the end of a confusing career. PHOTO: Keith Allison, CC License

Alex Rodriguez had been suspended by Major League Baseball for the remainder of the 2013 season, and all of the 2014 season, pending Rodriguez’s appeal (ironically, A-Rod will take the field for the first time this season because his return from injury happens to coincide with the day his suspension was announced). Twelve other players, including two important players on contending teams (Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta), face 50 game suspensions, which takes them almost exactly to the end of this season.

Rodriguez received a much longer suspension for repeated performance-enhancing drug (PED) use with multiple substances across many years, and for attempting to block baseball’s investigations into his use and the “anti-aging” Biogenesis clinic, which hooked up players with hard-to-trace PEDs.

The Great

A-Rod just turned 38, and if the suspension is unchanged, he will return to baseball in his age 40 season. Though his contributions on the field had begun to wain, bringing Rodriguez down to a roughly average player last year, there is no denying that since he became a fulltime player in 1996, A-Rod has been one of the best  players of his generation. Despite switching to third base when he joined the Yankees in 2004, A-Rod is still probably the second best shortstop ever, behind only Honus Wagner, based on the numbers alone. Had he spent his whole career at third base, his numbers could arguably best those of consensus best third baseman ever, Mike Schmidt.

The Cheat

Rodriguez, however, is not someone we can evaluate on numbers alone. He admitted to using PEDs for his entire time as a Ranger, and now that overly convenient bookending as a cheater has proved to be false. Rodriguez has been using a variety of PEDs, including anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) through his time with the Rangers and Yankees, which comprises his age 26 season onward. And how about his early years as a Seattle Mariner? That was before drug testing, and at a time when the players getting the most adoration and the biggest contracts were all on PEDs. We may never know when his PED use started, but there is no great reason to presume A-Rod’s innocence in his early-20s phenom days.

The Burden

Even before A-Rod was exposed as a cheater, he gave the Yankees their share of headaches. He made headlines for bizarre reasons: having many and then few sleepovers with Derek Jeter, dating Madonna, opting out of his contract during the deciding game of the World Series, kissing himself in the mirror in a magazine photo. And then there were his contracts. While no one forced the Texas Rangers to sign A-Rod to a 10 year, $252 million contract, nor did the Yankees have to re-up him after he opted out to the tune of 10 years, $275 million, those contracts hampered A-Rod’s teams (even the Yankees) and made fans like him less.

The Legacy

Most athletes have a career we can sum up in one sentence in a satisfactory way. Alex Rodriguez doesn’t offer that simplicity. He was a cheat and a primadonna, but he was also one of the best players to ever take the field, cheating and all. Even with the money he will lose from his coming suspension, he is one of the most financially successful athletes ever.

A-Rod’s legacy will likely be one of a liar and a cheat, but that’s true of many players to day, and much of the League in A-Rod’s early years. What set Rodriguez apart was that his cheating made him into one of the best players ever, as opposed to just a passable Major Leaguer. He was the best of the cheaters, which is somehow, in the public’s eye, the worst thing to be.