This is what steroids have done to us. This is what a decade of mammoth home runs have made us think. No longer can we sit back and enjoy power hitters. We are forced to question every single moon shot.
We are forced to question Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is far from faultless for his actions: steroid use, throwing people under the bus, and destroying his reputation, to name a few things. But this season, a year in which the Yankees seemed like they wanted him to fail miserably so they could sit him on the bench and deal with his contract, he has consistently forced his way into the lineup.
He’s fourth on the team with a .267 average, third with a .411 on-base percentage, first on the team with four home runs and 11 RBI, and second with a .600 slugging percentage and a 1.011 OPS.
Granted, he’s struck out a team-high 16 times, but now, at age 39 and just two home runs away from Willie Mays, we question every home run, every gap shot, every single ball he hits hard. How can a 39-year-old hit the way he has after missing an entire season?
Steroids. That’s how. Or at least, that’s what we think.
According to many ‘experts,’ Rodriguez must be juicing again—how else would he be doing this? What about the fact that in his prime, pre-steroids (whenever that may have been), he was the potential face of baseball? With Derek Jeter, there may not have been a better young shortstop duo in baseball history.
Is it possible that the same natural hitting ability that he had when he was 20 is still with him 20 years later? To far too many, that’s a crazy proposition.
We won’t see him hit at a .303/.388/.575 split that he managed from 1996 to 2010, arguably one of the greatest splits among any shortstop in baseball history. But it isn’t that crazy to expect a .265/.340/.525 split with, say, 25 home runs and 85 RBI.
If he could manage those numbers, it would be one of the best seasons among any veteran baseball player. In Jeter’s final MLB season, at the age of 40, he managed a .256/.304/.313 split with just four home runs and 149 hits.
But Jeter wasn’t a power hitter. Ken Griffey Jr. was. In Junior’s final full season, at the age of 39, he hit .214/.324/.411 with 19 home runs and 57 RBI, all with 83 hits.
Among the four men ahead of Rodriguez on the MLB All-Time home run list (in order, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays), only Bonds managed to have numbers higher than what Rodriguez could put together this season, numbers that are most likely strayed due to steroids.
Which furthers the question, how much ‘help’ is Rodriguez getting this season? When Bonds was 40 years old, he put together a .362/.609/.812 line, all of which led the league, with 45 home runs and 101 RBI.
Steroids, most definitely.
But among the other three members in the top five, they combined to average a .240/.425/.468 split, all of which were not bolstered by steroids.
We’ve seen what steroids do to a player late in his career. We’ve seen Bonds be unaffected by age. But, more importantly, we’ve seen the game’s best hitters age naturally and still be productive at the age of 40.
Does this mean we should forget that Rodriguez cheated America’s Pastime? Absolutely not. But we should not forget that, at one time, everyone believed Rodriguez would move past Bonds on the home runs list.
We should not forget that at age 20, Rodriguez hit a league-best .358 with 36 home runs and 123 RBI.
Rodriguez said he used steroids from 2001-2003, years in which he hit .318, .300, .298, with 52, 57, and 47 home runs, respectively.
Before he was using steroids, or at least before he says he was using steroids, Rodriguez was blasting 40 home runs a year and hitting .310, so is it that crazy that a natural slugger aged (relatively) gracefully?
Could it be possible that he didn’t suddenly forget how to hit a baseball when he turned 38? That his natural, powerful, swing is still there and still effective?
We can continue to assume Rodriguez is still on steroids, that his current numbers are ‘juiced’ up. Or, we can appreciate one the greatest hitters in baseball history. Not one of the greatest men, but hitters.