"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

What 600 Might Mean

I had been planning a longer piece on the historical significance of Alex Rodríguez‘s 600th home run, focusing specifically on the rapidly growing ranks of the four-, five-, and six-hundred home run clubs, but since I couldn’t possibly come with anything better or more thorough than Joe Posnanski’s recent column over at SI.com, I thought I might go in a different direction.

It used to be that hitting four-hundred home runs gave you an automatic ticket to Cooperstown, but then Dave Kingman had to go and mess things up by hitting 442 home runs.  Since any rational person knew that Kingman most definitely did NOT belong in the Hall of Fame, the entrance requirements were rewritten.  Now 500 was the milestone you’d have to hit to assure your place in the Hall, and for a long time that number seemed nonnegotiable.  But you know what happened next.

If you take a look at the top twenty-five players on the all-time home run list and scan up starting with Eddie Murray’s 504 , you’ll see a host of names that will never be enshrined in Cooperstown.  There’s certainly a lingering drug cloud that will keep several of them out, people like Barry Bonds and the Unholy Trinity of McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro, but there are others who simply don’t seem to belong.  Gary Sheffield comes to mind, drugs or no drugs.  And I know Jim Thome‘s had a nice career and will finish with more home runs than all but six or seven guys, but somehow I don’t think Hall of Famer when I look at him.

So what do 600 home runs mean for Alex Rodríguez?  It was just a few years ago that people looked at him completely differently.  Boxing had a string of Great White Hopes, but A-Rod was baseball’s Great Clean Hope.  He was the one who could race to the top of the charts, surpassing Bonds and scoring a victory for what we hoped was clean baseball.  (This, by the way, is the part where I resist the urge to launch into a diatribe on the hypocrisy of a sport that allowed amphetamine use for decades, or start talking about the slippery slope of ligament transplants and lasix surgery.  But I digress.)

But with great hope comes great disappointment, and so it was with Rodríguez.  The optimists among us suddenly had no ammunition against the pessimists.  Maybe everyone really was juicing.  Maybe nothing was real.  And so when A-Rod came to bat with 599 home runs in Cleveland and Kansas City, people booed as they waited for history.  There weren’t as many asterisks as we saw in the stands when Bonds was chasing 755, but they were definitely there.

So the question now is, will Alex Rodríguez be elected to the Hall of Fame?  Even though he may end up with something in the neighborhood of 800 home runs, there are those who believe the doors to the Hall are closed to him forever.  Buster Olney doesn’t think his colleagues will ever elect him, but Olney himself has voted for McGwire and plans to vote for Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, and A-Rod once they’re eligible.  Here’s the money quote from his larger explanation:

I think most of the elite players were using performance-enhancing drugs, and within the context of that time — when baseball wasn’t doing anything to stop the growth of drug use — this was what the sport was. And we don’t know exactly who did what. There are a lot of superstar players who were broadly suspected within the sport of having used steroids, but they avoided the crossfire; the only difference between those guys and McGwire was that McGwire had Jose Canseco as a teammate. And here’s the other thing — we don’t know exactly who did what, and when they did it. So I think in order to have a consistent standard when considering the steroid-era players, you either have to vote for no one at all, or set aside the steroid issue and just vote for the best players of the era.

Alex Rodríguez, then, emerges as the ultimate test case.  Most of the big-name steriod users saw their names dragged in the mud after their careers had ended.  A-Rod had the sense to admit what he had done, which might count for something with some writers, and by the time he retires he will have played six to eight years — presumably clean — following that admission.  Certainly some writers will never forget the stain, but I hope that enough do.  Alex Rodríguez belongs in the Hall of Fame.

[Photo Credit: Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/Larry Roibal]


1 Chyll Will   ~  Aug 5, 2010 10:15 am

It's hard for me to take the HoF seriously when the voting process largely involves the caprices of selected writers who may or may not have literal experience observing the player throughout his career and have significant opinions on how that player should live their life or think, but then have little defense of their own values when equally put on the spot ("Well, that's just what I think and I have a right to think that!")

That said, I would be surprised if Rodriguez got the same amount of dunning that those who continued to deny their use have had. That would really be hypocritical; punishing someone who tells the truth (and few people like "the truth" as much as they say they do) just as hard as if they didn't. Some players are probably thinking, "what's the point? It's not going to change anything with these people..." and unless we're shown otherwise, it's a rational defense. It's a "mute" argument at best; if Rodriguez cannot be in the Hall of Fame, then nobody should; in effect you are blacking out a couple of decades of baseball greatness and calling into question any present players recently inducted; not to mention the validity of the HoF itself. Hell, you might want to rename it the Brotherhood of Fame.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 5, 2010 10:37 am

A fine mess, indeed...

3 omarcoming   ~  Aug 5, 2010 10:47 am

Although I want Mickey Mantle restored to his former place on the all-time lists the issue of the HOF holds little interest for me. I am much more juiced about today's competition. ARod has been a wonderful player. He works hard, is always prepared and at present seems to be popular with his teammates. It is hard to grow up in the spotlight and the man's immaturity has made him unpopular in the past. Ten years from now who cares. I hope he is happy and healthy but his legacy holds little interest.
About this 800 hr.stuff. He is on the downside with a bad hip and will DH more in the future. Without augmentation players will breakdown according to the laws of nature and young players will get their chance, as it should be.

4 Shaun P.   ~  Aug 5, 2010 12:22 pm

[1] Precisely correct.

5 monkeypants   ~  Aug 5, 2010 1:18 pm

[1] in effect you are blacking out a couple of decades of baseball greatness and calling into question any present players recently inducted

Indeed, and this is why I hate the whole PED mess, because it has tarnished everybody. Since I am one of those who happens to be more bothered by PED use, where others have reconciled themselves (and yes, we all know the arguments...no need to rehearse them here), I am forced when presented with the choice to yes to all of them or no, to say no. Whether the HoF actually blocks out this era or not is of little consequence to me personally, because I have already done so. The pursuit of various single season and career records, and entry the HoF itself, simply hold very little interest for; they generate no passion or enthusiasm or excitement or anticipation.

6 OldYanksFan   ~  Aug 5, 2010 3:19 pm

Anybody ever do any high quality uppers? When it comes to physicality, can you say it's not a PED? However, with uppers, you don't need to spend 4 hours a day, 3 days a week in a gym, killing yourself.

While ARod might have benefitted from Steroids, look at BEFORE and AFTER pictures of Bonds, Sosa and Big Mac. Would you even recognize them as the same guy? Now do it for ARod. See ANY difference?

If ARod can hit 54 HRs in YS (28 Away) at age 31, is it that much of a stretch to think he could average 52 HRs over 3 years (ages 25-27) in Texas (avg 25 Away) ?

With many players, you can look at their HR stats and see the really strange anomally.
A-Gon. Best HR year: 57. 2nd best: 31. But... who really knows.
Bonds and Sosas before and after HR numbers jump out at you.

You can't believe everything ARod says, but when he says he's not sure he even used PEDs correctly (as opposed to Bonds and Mac who made a science of it), well..... I believe that. Kind of typical ARod.

Is ARod the greatest overall middle infielder in MLB history?

This whole steroids thing is bullshit.
Bonds is a no doubter HOFer, steroids or not.
Big Mac.... probably.
Sosa.... close, but could be debated.
ARod is first ballot HOF material.

P.S. Thome has the same career OPS+ as ARod... 146.
No SBs or running skills, no great D, and a 1st baseman. But still, the guy was pretty freakin good.

7 monkeypants   ~  Aug 5, 2010 4:29 pm

[6] Is ARod the greatest overall middle infielder in MLB history?

Rogers. Hornsby.

8 omarcoming   ~  Aug 5, 2010 7:35 pm


I may as old as you but the steroids bother me. Bennies are good for a wake up but you don't get super human strength. NFL guys used to take them by the handful.
Arod has been a great player. Who cares about HOF? Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry and Kirby Puckett are in there. Enough said.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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