Every year, Major League Baseball hands out its Comeback Player of the Year award to the player in each league who has been judged to have “re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season.” That’s certainly a vague description if ever there was one. I suppose you could say that Alex Rodriguez has re-emerged on the baseball field during the 2015 season, but should that make him Comeback Player of the Year material?
Rodriguez is having a very fine 2015 season after not playing a game in 2014 due to the fact that he was put in a season-long timeout by the league for a laundry list of offenses related to performance enhancing drugs, lying, and obstructing justice. Those things are all big no-nos, especially for a player who has already tested positive for PED’s and admitted to using them. Still, there is no denying that Rodriguez, who has 30 home runs and 78 RBIs in the heart of a resurgent New York Yankees’ lineup, is having quite a re-emergent type of season. He’s been good for an OPS+ of 136 and an oWAR of 3.1.
Rodriguez is having the best comeback season in the American League, beating out Prince Fielder. The Texas Rangers big first baseman got on the field for just 42 games last year, and looked done. He showed not a hint of power, slugging just .360. Fielder’s back doing his thing in a big way this year, slashing .309/.380/.462 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs. He’s produced a 128 OPS+ and 2.1 oWAR. Despite having a very good year, Fielder comes up just short of matching A-Rod.
To me, though, Rodriguez comes up short in matching the real spirit of the award. Just look at some of the players who have won it in recent years. Mariano Rivera won in 2013 after returning from an ACL tear. Buster Posey claimed the honor in 2012 after returning from a shattered fibula. Tim Hudson won in 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Same for Chris Carpenter in 2009.
All those players I named had some real adversity to overcome. What did Rodriguez have to overcome? Just his own boneheaded and selfish decisions. Voting Rodriguez the best comeback story this season ignores the fact that he had an entire year away from the rigors of professional baseball to rest his 40-year-old body and creaking hips. He looked finished from 2011 to 2013 (while taking PED’s no less), and would have kept on looking the same way in 2014 had he not earned a detention from Major League Baseball. Fielder, to me, is the better story, and would have easily won the award had he kept his average up near .350 as it was earlier in the season.
If there’s any consolation for Rodriguez, it is in the fact that the award was initially created in a partnership with Viagra. So there’s a history of performance enhancing substances tied to the award. Alex Rodriguez has re-emerged on the baseball field in 2015, but what he has re-emerged from should weigh heavily on the minds of voters. A vote for Rodriguez to win the 2015 Comeback Player of the Year award ignores the real spirit of the award. To me, there is just too much baggage that comes with Alex Rodriguez — enough baggage to keep him from winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.