On July 8, 1994, Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez made his Major League debut. He was 18. That year he got his first base hit and his first run batted in; the next season he hit his first home run.
Now, twenty-one years later, only two players in major-league history have over 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs batted in—Henry Aaron and Alex Rodriguez. Only one—Aaron—has at least 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBIs, and 700 home runs. As I post this, Rodriguez is about 30 shy of 700 homers. With a year-and-half left on his Yankee contract, he should easily reach 700. Think about it: Ruth Gehrig, Foxx, Williams, DiMaggio, Musial, Mantle, Mays, Bonds, Griffey—none of them reached the zenith of Aaron and Rodriguez.
I’ve not lost sight of the enormous, steroid-fueled elephant in the room. I point out the amazing feats of A-Rod because I believe he could have reached those heights without cheating and lying.
During his last four seasons prior to this year (2011-2014), when he sustained injuries (probably from steroid use) and served a one-year suspension, he totaled only 41 homers, 138 RBIs, and 267 hits. Had he played even less than typical seasons during that span, he would have produced about 140 homers, 480 RBIs, and 650 hits. Of course, part of his steroid-induced numbers would have to be subtracted from his splurge in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Even so, I think he’d have totaled 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBIs, and 700 homers.
Given that he played superbly the difficult position of shortstop for the bulk of his career, Alex Rodriguez might have gone into baseball history as the greatest player ever, Babe Ruth’s pitching prowess notwithstanding.
Instead, beginning next summer in Cooperstown, when Ken Griffey Jr. makes his Hall of Fame induction speech, and every summer thereafter, the man they call A-Rod will be on the outside looking in. For me that is the tragedy of the steroid era.