Alex Rodriguez will play in his final game Friday night at Yankee Stadium and then be unceremoniously dumped from the Yankees roster. He will collect all the money owed to him for the final year-plus of his remaining contract, and he will remain tied to the organization as a special instructor for the minor league system and an advisor to Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner.
Unless something crazy happens—which it surely could, for despite being overmatched at the plate for the past calendar year, he is still a generational player, capable of running into a few dingers—A-Rod will finish his career with 696 home runs, good enough for fourth all time. Only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth hit more home runs than the guy the New York Yankees are tossing aside for the final month of another lost season. It is perhaps fitting that after 22 years of unprecedented baseball achievement, Rodriguez's career is ending in a way we've never before seen, too.
You can't go very far in any of the various A-Rod post-mortems without coming across performance-enhancing drugs, which is fair. They are a part of his career. He talked about it at his press conference yesterday, as did Brian Cashman. Rodriguez will forever be linked to PEDs, in part because he used them, and in part because, as a result of Major League Baseball's ridiculous and unscrupulous witch hunt, he became a poster boy for the sport's Steroid Era.
Rodriguez also spent most of his career being a socially awkward weirdo who desperately wanted people to like him but couldn't stop doing things that made people hate him. Almost as sad as A-Rod falling just short of the satisfyingly round 700 home runs is that he only figured out how to placate the media in the final years of his career. Think how differently the past ten years of his life would be if he was capable of manipulating the press the way he can now. Think how differently the next five years could have been, too. He might have had a shot at the Hall of Fame. Certainly a better one than he does now.
That is the farce of Cooperstown, and more specifically the Baseball Writers Association of America. The body of work Alex Rodriguez put together—not unlike that of brothers in exile Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—is unquestionably that of a Hall of Famer. To even have to say that is ridiculous, but because of what he did and, more damning for those casting the votes, who he is, he is decidedly not a Hall of Famer.
David Ortiz—a very good player in his own right and yet still a bum compared to A-Rod—is also retiring this year (albeit more voluntarily), and has a more realistic shot at Cooperstown, despite his own PED ties. That's because he's got the charisma of a movie star—Ortiz once said "fucking" in front of an entire stadium and barely anyone even got upset—whereas A-Rod is as charismatic as a dirty sock. But to a vast majority of Hall of Fame voters, "Do I think he's an asshole?" matters as much as a career .960 OPS.
It's not just petty; it's a disservice to game they ostensibly are trying to safeguard. Yesterday, Keith Law had possibly the best, most concise take on this I've seen:
"These three" refers to A-Rod, Bonds, and Clemens, and he's absolutely right. Whatever your thoughts on those three personally, their careers and their numbers are indisputable. They happened. You can speculate how much they were aided by PED use—and certainly many people play that game—but it's impossible to know for sure, or to point to a definitive line where the "clean" games stop and the "dirty" ones begin. And it's just as ridiculous to think we can neatly sort baseball history into those categories.
The whole point of a Hall of Fame is to have a repository where greatness is not forgotten. To keep out players of Alex Rodriguez's caliber presumes that history will forget who he is, which is not going to happen. It also presumes that people are incapable of having two conversations at the same time. Yes, he was a great player; yes, he took performance-enhancing drugs. Not only are we capable of having these conversations at the same time; it's not even particularly difficult. I just did it right there. Took me three seconds.
It does not tarnish the museum, or the other players in there, to include players associated with PEDs and simply note it like a rational adult. Here are the facts: Alex Rodriguez hit 696 home runs, 3,114 base hits, and has a career slashline of .295/.380/.550. He was also suspended for an entire season for PED use. Ken Griffey Jr. would be no less a Hall of Famer if that was on A-Rod's plaque. In fact, it might even strengthen his standing. At the very least, it provides fodder for discussion and argument, which is the whole goddamn point of sports and halls of fame.
It's not an individual voter's job to have these conversations for people, or to protect people from having to consider them. It's to put the best baseball players in a museum of baseball. Without Alex Rodriguez, and Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens, there is no Hall of Fame. There is only a building with tributes to some great baseball players, selected at random.