Last night in the Bronx, Alex Rodriguez took the first pitch he saw from Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers deep. It was hit number 3,000 for Rodriguez, and he became just the third player in baseball history to record the milestone hit on a home run, joining Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter. Rodriguez also became just the third player, along with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron to reach the 600 home run plateau and 3,000 hit club. After Jeter, he became just the second player to record his 3,000th hit for the storied New York Yankees’ franchise.
It should have been a night that will go down in baseball history forever.
Instead, Rodriguez’s accomplishment, with his name dogged by steroid allegations, outright lies, and years of poor decision-making, will likely become just a footnote in baseball’s lengthy history. He will not join another member of the 3,000 hit, 500 home run club Eddie Murray in Cooperstown. Instead, he will be left on the outside looking in just like another member of that very exclusive club, Rafael Palmeiro. When Jeter recorded his 3,000th hit, the opposing Tampa Bay Rays joined the Yankee Stadium crowd in celebrating the moment and were full participants in Jeter’s curtain call. The Tigers barely tipped their cap to Rodriguez.
What a shame, both for Rodriguez, a player who cares deeply about his legacy and place in the game, and the game of baseball itself. Rodriguez joining luminaries Mays and Aaron should have been a night for the game to celebrate and trumpet. Instead, this night and home run are nothing more than another cringe-worthy event for a league that suspended Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, and must now watch him continue his ascension up its all-time leaderboards.
Already this season, Rodriguez has surpassed the RBI totals of Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds. Suspiciously enough, Major League Baseball has chosen to recognize all 2,213 runs driven in by Babe Ruth. The stat was not an official one before 1920, and earlier this season, MLB was content to credit Ruth with the 1,992 RBIs recorded by the Elias Sports Bureau. Rodriguez recorded his 1,992nd RBI just under a month ago, and MLB itself credited him with tying Ruth. Now, however, the league has found reason to count the 221 runs the Babe may or may not have driven in prior to 1920. Poor Cap Anson, who is credited with 2,075 RBI by some sources must still settle for 1,879 officially recognized MLB runs batted in.
When Rodriguez surpassed Willie Mays’ 660 career home runs, it set off a nasty tiff with the Yankees who wanted no part of the event. Rodriguez’s contract included a $6 million marketing bonus for the milestone home run. The only problem, however, was that the Yankees did not care to market the home run hit by their tainted slugger. They do not, of course, have a problem penciling Rodriguez into their three-hole, where he has been having a remarkably productive age-40 season. Nor do they wish to return the 2009 World Series title in which Rodriguez played a starring role.
The entire 2015 season should have gone down as the ultimate coronation of Rodriguez, a player who began leaving baseball fans in awe from the age of 18. At the age of 20, Rodriguez led the league with a .358 batting average and 379 total bases. He recorded a 40-40 season at the age of 22. The youthful Rodriguez played the game with an ease and passion that had us all projecting him to ultimately surpass Ruth and Aaron. Along with Jeter, he was set to be the Golden Boy for the next two decades of Major League Baseball. Driven instead by a myriad of factors, be it pressure to live up to the quarter-of-a-billion dollar contract handed to him by the Texas Rangers, an unyielding desire to become the greatest player baseball has ever seen, or perhaps just flat out arrogance, jealousy, insecurity and prima donnaism, Rodriguez gave into the urge to use performance enhancing drugs.
I am by no means an Alex Rodriguez apologist. Steroid use aside, he has behaved loathsomely every single time he has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Lies, hollow apologies, and outright damnable behavior have followed each positive test. A hand-written apology note with flowery prose was supposed to wipe the Biogenesis scandal from our collective memories? It will, unfortunately for Rodriguez, take more than that to get back in the good graces of Major League Baseball after the coverup attempt, lies, and smear campaign Rodriguez directed their way before ultimately admitting to using performance enhancing drugs for a second time.
Last night, however, could have been the ultimate crowning of Rodriguez. It could have played on highlight reels for years to come. Baseball so loves its history, milestones, and record books, but this is not a moment or milestone that will be celebrated, almost certainly out of that very love for the record books. Alex Rodriguez’s accomplishments are tainted, to what degree we will never truly know.
I would have loved to be able to applaud Rodriguez for reaching 3,000 hits or 2,000 RBI, but I can’t. I’m surely not the only baseball fan that feels that way. The fans, the game, and Rodriguez himself were robbed of an incredible moment last night, but only one can take the blame. I think you know who that is.