Friday, May 8, 2015

On A-Rod, The Longball, And Those Damn Yankees

Kim Klement/USA Today
Sure, I know this is a Minnesota Twins blog, but at times it's ok to deviate a little bit from the mean. After all, if we're going to focus solely on another team in baseball, it's probably worth talking about the New York Yankees. There's probably not another foe more hated in the state of Minnesota, and for good reason, but the recent history runs plenty deep. With Alex Rodriguez hitting home run number 661 last night, it would seem now is as good of a time as any for a little reflection.

First let's start with the hear and now. On the season, the former Yankee posterboy Rodriguez has seven home runs. That total equals the mark he recorded in 2013 (albeit he played in only 44 games). Having served a season long suspension a year ago, it looks like Rodriguez has his legs back under him, and he's looking straight up at Barry Bonds record. Had it not been for former Twin Delmon Young robbing a home run from A-Rod last night (surprisingly Delmon Young robbed a home-run, crazy things do happen), the Yankee slugger would be sitting exactly 100 longballs away from tying Bonds' mark. So how do we put it all into context?

On September 5, 2007 Barry Bonds hit his last home run, number 762. At the age of 42, he was winding down a season in which he launched 28 homers, while hitting .276 and leading the majors with a .480(!!!) on base percentage. I was in the stands at Great American Ballpark in the summer of 2003 when Bonds launched number 647 against the Cincinnati Reds, there's no doubt in my mind he was one of the greatest power hitters of all time. Now with Rodriguez quickly approaching that territory, it's time to contextualize the concept as well.

Both Bonds and Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs. I don't need a grand jury or either player to outright admit to that, it's more the validated. Each of them stacked the deck in their favor. While baseball was searching for an offensive revitalizing, commissioner Bud Selig turned a blind eye, and players like the two mentioned took advantage. Eventually Selig decided he'd had enough, it had gotten out of control on his watch, and now he'd go on a witch hunt to reign it back in. Fortunate or not, both Bonds and Rodriguez have become the gold standard for negativity in the steroid era of baseball. For me however, it's tough to chalk up their accomplishments as nonsensical due to that understanding.

In nearly every era over the course of the existence of baseball, circumstances have remained difficult to compare. Whether it be amphetamines, the exclusion of African-American players, the live ball era, or some combination of other events, baseball has consistently been inconsistent. Although not to condone cheating, I find slighting otherworldly performances in the greatest game on earth to be shortsighted. I can dismiss Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds the individuals, neither of them seem like great people, their accomplishments reside in a different category.

As Bonds launched number 762 on September 5, it could have been reasoned that an entire generation of baseball fans had just experienced something they would never see again. Fast forwarding to 2015, it stands to reason that same generation may just be lucky enough to see it happen twice. With each Rodriguez home run, he moves one step closer to breaking what seemed to be an insurmountable record. At 39, time is running out, but the baseball fan in me is hoping there's just enough.

Do I think Alex Rodriguez is the greatest power hitter to ever play the game, probably not. Would I love to witness Rodriguez being the second all-time home run record breaker in my lifetime, there's no doubt about it. While I still will always dismiss Alex Rodriguez the person, I love the longball as much as anyone else, and despite hating those damn Yankees, it's about so much more than that.