Thoughts on A-Rod’s Hall of Fame Candidacy

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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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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8 Comments

  1. sigfredo burgos

    so much talk, no one knows what these guys go through.. when pressure is applied to keep the fans happy, when you have people looking up to you.. you dont want to lose that image so what if he used steriods so did everyone else, including David ortiz shouldn’t even be in the hall of fame i dont care if hes a teddy bear he took steriods he shouldn’t even be there same with the rest that tested positive in 2003,.. that mean they should induct bonds and clemens as well the majority did steriods some got caught some didn’t like piazza he also tested positive and hes in the hall of fame, idk what type of scam these writers are pulling but they not fooling me.. if they wanted too they would vote Arod in, this is stupid if you get caught you shouldn’t be wearing that hof jacket.. but yet you people were clapping and smiling when Arod was breaking records and everyone was cheering him on, all of you are a bunch of hypocrites..

  2. This+Year

    The whole Big Papi thing makes me ill. Just compare his stats from his years playing in the Minnesota “Homer Dome” (never more than 20 HRs) to what he did in Boston later. ‘Nuff said.

  3. MikeD

    A-Rod is going to conveniently fall into the Manny Ramirez class, meaning the PED user who failed a second (or is the first?) test and was suspended. It is a shame that A-Rod failed that second test, because if he didn’t, the only evidence against him would be the same test that Ortiz failed. The BBWAA members would be caught between a rock and a hard place, desperately wanting to vote for Ortiz knowing they’d have to vote for A-Rod.

    The BBWAA has already voted in Piazza, Bagwell and Ivan Rodriquez, all whom were heavily suspect of using PEDs. I-Rod was a poster child for roids. Bagwell was caught with the same steroid precursor in his locker as did McGwire. Ortiz failed the test, and there were other signs along the way that he was a PED user, including having his greatest year ever in his final season at age 40. Yeah, that’s normal. Some players masked it better than others. Vote Ortiz in, but future generations of fans and BBWAA members will look back stunned that player X was voted in but not player Y.

    This has been an embarrassment for many BBWAA members.

  4. The entire HOF entry process is so flawed. It’s been a popularity contest for years and shows no signs of stopping. Mariano was amazing and deserving but for him to be the FIRST unanimous member of the HOF is a travesty to the who process. I don’t know what the fix is-some sort of universal statistical standard maybe?

    Regarding the steroids issue…it’s ridiculous that players like Bonds, Clemens, Arod, etc are being punished after the fact for doing something that the commissioner at the time turned a blind eye to because they brought in fans and made the game exciting to watch. These guys should have absolutely been first ballot HOF’ers. Hopefully they will be eventualy.

  5. Terry from LA

    Yeah, Ortiz wasn’t juiced. Right!

    • Ana Apostoleris

      I think he was and I think that the gulf between their support is logically unsound.

      • Brian

        Yeah but everybody likes Ortiz! He was a big lovable dude on The Idiots! He helped vanquish the big bad Evil Empire! Meanwhile A-Rod _was_ the Evil Empire! And he *gasp* went for the big payday contract unlike Ortiz!

  6. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    He shouldn’t be and he won’t be, Ana, not as long as I have a breath left in my body. He cheated the game and that means anybody and everybody who ever cheated should be excluded including Bonds, Clemens, ARod, Cano, Manny. Now it does not extend to David Ortiz because Big Papi is a fun loving teddy bear who was never suspended under the drug testing program. And it does not extend to other sports like the NFL where Bellichick and Brady were just trying to get a competitive advantage and will both be 1st ballot HOFers. Ortiz denies ever using PEDs and I believe him. I don’t believe a word that comes out of ARod’s purple lips because he said he never used and then later he was caught using. Had he just been like Ortiz and never gotten caught later I think he’d have a much better chance of getting in. Now some people say well he had such great numbers he woulda gotten in anyway without PED use. Perhaps but we don’t know that. He coulda gotten hurt and then been unable to recover as well without them. I remember his last season he was so old and decrepit that they had to cut him mid season. He couldn’t even DH anymore so it is likely he would have broken down at a much earlier age and his younger seasons wouldn’t have been as good.

    Ultimately he cheated the game, Ana, and should never get into the Hall with the likes of players like Jete and Mo and Jeff Bagwell who did it the right way their whole careers. There is a special place in hell for players like ARod and that place will be sitting next to Michael Kay on a Sunday night talk show.

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