Happy New Year, Views Crew. The lockout is well underway and the hot stove is by extension ice cold, but Hall of Fame discourse soldiers on despite the uncertainty surrounding the sport.
Balloting has officially ended, and results will be announced on January 25 for induction in July 2022. Of interest to Yankees fans, this year marks Alex Rodriguez’s first year on the ballot after his 2016 retirement. There have certainly been many thousands of words written by dozens of writers on the controversy of his candidacy, but as late in the game as it is I’m going to go on record and say that A-Rod should be a Hall of Famer. Going into this balloting season, I believed he may have an easier time than his steroid-tainted predecessors in convincing the writers, but as the winter has gone on I’m starting to have doubts.
The Statistical Argument
Making a case for Rodriguez’s induction based on stats alone is an easy task. He was a 14-time All Star and a 3-time MVP who finished in the top 10 in MVP voting an astounding ten times over the course of his 22 year career. He retired with 696 home runs and a career 140 OPS+ (OPSing over 1.000 six times). His 117.5 bWAR ranks 16th all time, and his 113.5 fWAR ranks 13th all time among hitters. He was the youngest player ever to reach the 500 home run mark. He also won a ring, in case anyone had forgotten.
However you slice it, A-Rod had an absolutely elite career. Every one of his top comps, according to Baseball Reference, is already a Hall of Famer — save for Barry Bonds, whose candidacy is similar to A-Rod’s in more ways than one. He blows away the benchmarks for a likely Hall of Famer in every “Hall of Fame Statistics” category, including a whopping 68 in the Black Ink category, just one point behind Bonds for the highest mark among former players who have not been elected to the Hall.
Rodriguez was a generational talent, and probably to this day the best player I’ve ever seen play in person. If his skill and statistics were all that were in question when talking about his Hall of Fame case, this article would be quite short.
The Steroid Argument
Of course, the elephant in the room when it comes to any discussion of A-Rod’s candidacy is his links to steroid use. Rodriguez’s use of performance enhancing drugs was rumored as early as the mid-2000s, but as late as 2007, he adamantly denied taking any banned substances. In 2009, Rodriguez’s name was leaked to Sports Illustrated in connection with a drug test that came up positive in 2003, and he then admitted to using anabolic steroids between 2001 and 2003.
Although Rodriguez claimed at the time that he was “clean” during his tenure with the Yankees, the 2009 leak was unfortunately not the end of the story. In 2013, he was connected to the Biogenesis Scandal, in which he allegedly bought human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs. He was one of 13 players suspended in connection with the scandal, and received by far the longest suspension of the bunch. While most of the other suspended players were given and accepted a 50 game suspension (Ryan Braun was suspended for 65), Rodriguez was initially given a 211 game suspension, constituting half of the 2013 and all of 2014, because Major League Baseball determined that his behavior was particularly detrimental to the sport. His suspension was functionally appealed down to 162 games, still almost three times as long as the next-longest steroid suspension.
Some may say that Rodriguez’s suspension was disproportionate to his crime or that MLB unfairly made an example out of him, but the reality is that his career will always be linked to steroid use. While there have certainly been rumored steroid users elected, there are some all-time greats who are suspected to have used and have as of yet been locked out of the Hall of Fame where they would otherwise have belonged, most notably Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
The Ortiz (and Ramirez) Factor
In the approximately 10-12 years that the “steroid factor” has been a major annual issue in Hall of Fame voting, we have had former players whose candidacies have been pretty inextricably linked to one another – most notably, Bonds and Clemens, who debuted on the ballot in the same year. The two have never finished more than a handful of votes apart in final balloting on any of their nine years of consideration; both, by statistics alone, should have been in on the first ballot.
With A-Rod debuting in the same year that Bonds and Clemens make their final appearances, his candidacy, while overall generally similar to those of the two aforementioned retired greats, will likely be linked less to theirs and more to that of David Ortiz. Ortiz, while certainly a formidable player, did not have nearly the career that Rodriguez did; however, many consider him a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that assessment. However, Ortiz was also linked to steroid use in a 2009 report of a 2003 screening that also outed Rodriguez, Bonds, Ramirez, and Sammy Sosa. Ortiz, like many other suspected users, has denied that he ever used performance-enhancing drugs, but the taint is theoretically still there.
Given that Ortiz and Rodriguez are debuting in the same year, and writers need to consider their candidacies side-by-side, I thought that Ortiz’s popularity may actually bolster Rodriguez’s candidacy in the long run. Ortiz, however, has gotten significantly more support this year, and his election seems imminent, if not this cycle then certainly within the next few forces upon the BBWAA the reality that players with steroid linkages are already enshrined.
It’s possible, however, that A-Rod’s candidacy may track more closely to that of Manny Ramirez. Ramirez, while not quite the overall talent that Rodriguez was, was similarly a beast of the ‘90s and early-to-mid ‘00s. He also was embroiled in steroid scandals, including two separate suspensions for violations of drug policy. Despite hitting 555 career home runs, batting .312 over a span of 19 seasons, and racking up ten top-10 MVP finishes and winning two World Series, Ramirez has topped out at 28.2% of the Hall of Fame vote thus far and looks like an unlikely candidate for induction barring a major change.
As of January 16, Ramirez is polling at 37.9% on Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker, just a few votes behind Rodriguez at 40.8%. Given that Ramirez’s candidacy has failed to take off throughout his first six years on the ballot, this may not bode well for A-Rod’s Hall of Fame future.
Based on this year’s Hall of Fame tracker, it is clear that A-Rod will not be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Given that the anonymous ballots are generally less steroid-friendly than the public ones, my guess is when final results are announced on January 25, he will finish somewhere slightly below the 40% threshold.
In my mind, you can’t represent the greatest of the ‘90s and ‘00s without including A-Rod. Since his debut at age 18 in 1994, he was elite among elite, and with or without PEDs certainly would have been an all-time talent. I hope that someday the writers will reward his excellent career, but based on early returns it appears like it will be an uphill battle.