If the use of performance-enhancing drugs was an issue this year with Baseball Hall of Fame voters, here’s a four-letter word for you: A-ROD.
What’s going to happen next year when Alex Rodriguez is eligible to be on the ballot for the first time?
Rodriguez is perhaps the poster boy for the three biggest storylines that consumed Major League Baseball between his arrival with the Seattle Mariners as a beacon for a downtrodden franchise in 1994 and when he ended his career as a disgraced New York Yankee in 2016.
Close your eyes and envision this poster in Cooperstown: Rodriguez in his pristine Yankee pinstripes, posing at home plate, with a sack of money in one hand, a steroid-filled syringe in the other and thousands of fans cheering his latest home run.
Money, homers and drugs — what three words better described Major League Baseball during Rodriguez’s time in The Show?
Rodriguez made $399,285,104 million in his career, which is at least $85 million more than any player in major league history, and more than $134 million better than Derek Jeter, who made the fifth-most ever.
His 696 home runs in a 22-year career rank fourth behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). His 2,086 RBIs also rank fourth, behind Aaron (2,297), Ruth (2,214) and Albert Pujols (2,100).
But to some, all of his accomplishments, which include winning three American League MVPs (2003, 2005, 2007), making 14 All-Star teams, earning 10 Silver Slugger Awards and leading the American League in runs and home runs five times apiece, come with an asterisk.
Rodriguez admitted he used steroids and in an instant — in many eyes — went from symbolizing all that was good about the timeless game to everything the public loathed about America’s national pastime.
Now, he’s up for the Hall of Fame, alongside Bonds and Clemens, who are both accurately linked to performance-enhancing drugs and return to next year’s ballot after failing to get in on Tuesday.
And like Rodriguez, their Hall of Fame-caliber play on the field was ultimately overshadowed by their use of performance-enhancing drugs off it, at least in the eyes of voters.
To gain entry to the Hall of Fame, a player must be included on at least 75 percent of the ballots submitted by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who may vote for up to 10 players apiece.
That no one got voted in by the writers for the first time since 2013 and for just the second time since 1960 makes for a tenuous situation for next year’s class, which now joins a crowded field.
Bonds got 61.8 percent of the vote and Clemens 61.6, meaning they will be on the 2022 ballot, and perhaps top vote-getter Curt Schilling (71.1) will return, too, considering he said he wanted to be taken off the ballot after coming up 16 votes shy of induction Tuesday.
Schilling, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson are the only pitchers in history to have three seasons with at least 300 strikeouts.
Still, many of the players on this year’s ballot will be joined by newcomers headlined by Rodriguez and David Ortiz, the latter a 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion who hit 541 home runs (17th all-time) and 632 doubles (12th all-time).
However, Big Papi never won an AL MVP, coming in the top 4 four times. But he has been adamant that he never used performance-enhancing drugs, even though he was named in the Mitchell Report for testing positive for them in 2003.
After Rodriguez and Ortiz, there’s a drop-off in talent.
Perhaps Ryan Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, who is just one of a dozen players ever to post three 140-RBI seasons, has the best chance. But he hit 382 home runs and made just three All-Star teams.
What about Prince Fielder? Is he really a Hall of Famer, let alone one who gets in on the first ballot? He’s a six-time All-Star and was the youngest player ever to hit 50 home runs, doing so at 23. But with no MVP or World Series titles, it’s hard to envision him getting the call every player dreams about.
And what about a pitcher?
Tim Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards, led the NL in strikeouts three times and made led the Giants to three titles, going 5-2 with a 2.40 ERA in 13 playoff games. Joe Nathan, a six-time All-Star, was great out of the bullpen, but do his 377 saves — eighth all-time — and 2.87 ERA make him worthy of a bronze bust?
Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, four-time All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford, six-time All-Star reliever Jonathan Papelbon, two-time All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski, three-time All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins and three-time All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira were all very good players, but were they Hall of Fame good?
Now, not only will they be battling each other for votes, but they are vying for induction against several players who will be on the ballot next year after failing to gain induction this year, including Scott Rolen (52.9 percent of ballots), Omar Vizquel (49.1), Billy Wagner (46.4), Todd Helton (44.9), Gary Sheffield (40.6), Andruw Jones (33.9) and Jeff Kent (32.4), among others.
Still, the 2022 vote will be defined by Rodriguez’s fate.
Will he become just the 15th player since 2009 to earn induction on their first ballot? In the end, it will come down to what attracts more attention — his exploits using a syringe or a Louisville slugger.
“There’s so many frustrating things when you look back at that,” Rodriguez said in 2017. “Number one, you have a guaranteed contract for hundreds of millions of dollars. Literally, you can sit on the couch and get fat. Right? How stupid can you be? … This thing cost me over $40 million. And it cost me my reputation, and it may have cost me the Hall of Fame and a number of other things.”
–Jon Gallo, Field Level Media