Alex Rodriguez's march to a Cooperstown snub continued today as he notched his 3,000th hit in classic fashion, homering on the first pitch her saw from Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander. While 3,000 hits may be a war of attrition, A-Rod has also slugged the most second most home runs of any member of this elite group, having just passed the great Willie Mays. His career OPS also ties Mays for third overall among hitters with 3,000 hits.
Rodriguez will continue his assault on this leaderboard as the season continues, and if he can equal his production to date, he figures to leap all the way to 21st, just ahead of Craig Biggio. With two more season's left on a contract that is looking less like an albatross around the Yankees ample neck, he could join former teammate Derek Jeter in the top 10 of the all-time hit list.
It's been more than 20 years since Alex broke into the league, so you're forgiven if you don't recall the Trout-ian level of excitement that surrounded his early years. Over his first seven season, he crushed 189 homers in Seattle, all while playing something between good and very good defense at shortstop. He led the new breed of power-hitting infielders, so it wasn't a surprise when he was offered what, at the time, was richest in contract in baseball. For Rodriguez, this quarter-billion dollar deal spelled the beginning of the end from a public relations standpoint.
While his three seasons in Texas were lost for the ball club, Rodriguez continued to mash. He led the league in homers for each of his three seasons with the Rangers, hitting a total of 156. That's nearly as many as Charlie Hustle hit for his 23-year career! Different eras, but that adds context to his depth of his skill set. After claiming runner-up in MVP voting twice, Rodriguez finally won his first in 2003, the season that would be his last as a Ranger. Despite being one of best players in the game over his tenure in Texas, public opinion on Rodriguez was mixed. Instead of the being seen as the phenom, the general public lashed out, and he became the poster child of the money-grubbing athlete who put money and personal success ahead of the desire to win.
If you want to learn more about the inner workings of the trade that sent A-Rod to the Bronx, check out the 30 for 30 about how he almost joined the Red Sox. After making some ill-advised comments about Jeter a few years earlier, he moved to third to let his less-talented former blood brother stick at short. Despite suffering from a mild case of Steve Sax Syndrome, A-Rod held it down at the hot corner... kind of.
Although the Yankees won the juggernaut AL East in A-Rod's first three seasons, the Yankees couldn't seal the deal in the postseason. Despite leading the team in fWAR over that three year stretch, his lackluster performance in the playoffs was all fans needed to malign him further. His would finally get his first and only ring (so far) in 2009, a postseason in which he crushed 6 homers and batted .365, but it was never enough.
During his tenure in New York, Rodriguez has faced many challenges. He's battled injuries, public relationship issues, and steroid shaming that resulted in a season long suspension. No one knew what to expect from A-Rod upon his return, but few would have predicted a season a season as productive as the one he's enjoying.
After a year in the wilderness, Rodriguez is hitting like himself again. Not peak A-Rod, but his wRC+ (148) is his highest since 2008. Not only that, but Alex has is healthy for the first time in forever, too. He's appeared in 63 of the Yankees 67 games and trails only Mark Teixeira for the team lead in home runs (13) and walks (34).
In the past, Rodriguez has come off a bit awkward. It's strange to see someone with his talent and accomplishments appear so insecure. Perhaps that's changing. He's handled Yankees public refusal to award him discretionary milestone bonuses admirably, and appears to have kept his head down this season. Aside from the other milestone he's reached this season, he's faded into the background as a new wave of phenoms have emerged.
Maybe it took a season away to finally feel comfortable in his own skin. Maybe working with Barry Bonds in the offseason helped not only his swing, but the way he sees himself. Maybe he's finally grown up. Or maybe we don't know as much about him as we think we do. Maybe we never did. Now, he's in the final act of his career, and we'll likely never have a Cooperstown speech to act as a bookend. How you choose to spend the twilight of his career is your choice. You can mock him to your friends on Twitter, or you can tip your cap. You can tune in or turn away. Like most things in life, it's up to you to decide how you want to enjoy these historic events. But players as talented as A-Rod come along rarely enough that it pays to choose wisely.
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