Home MLB To use an asterisk or not?

To use an asterisk or not?

by Matt Smith

On Friday, the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez became only the 29th player in Major League Baseball history to reach 3,000 career hits.

You’ll already know the back story as to why that achievement hasn’t been celebrated with quite the unanimous approval it would normally produce.

Getting to 3,000 hits is a rare feat of sterling endurance and skill that is always worthy of respect, whether you like the player or not; however in Rodriguez’s case it’s the legitimacy of how he amassed some of those hits that clouds the situation.

The interesting thing here is that there are plenty of baseball fans who applauded the event, in contrast to the narrative that everybody hates drug cheats. ‘Baseball fans’ are no more a single collective who all think the same way than any other vague grouping of people we construct. Some people don’t care at all about drug use in sport, some think it is a cancer that requires a zero tolerance approach.

There’s a middle ground, though, that I suspect a lot of people fall into. It’s a position which comes down to the basic human instinct of not liking being lied to. It’s the thought of sportsmen and women acting holier than thou whilst breaking the rules that frustrates because it creates a situation where the genuinely innocent face unjustified suspicion.

The lengths to which Rodriguez has gone over the years to deny and cover up his use of banned substances is a sad indictment of a man who clearly was blessed with great ability to play this sport; yet sometimes – in all walks of life – the characteristics that make a person stand out and succeed in his or her field are not necessarily characteristics that would appeal to you or I.

I’m sure he won’t see it this way in the slightest, but in a sense Rodriguez’s place in history has been clarified by his very public fall from grace. We don’t know the full story and never will, yet we do know Rodriguez chose to use banned substances at several points in his career. If you want to disregard his achievements on the field as a result then that’s your right as a fan.

I’m not convinced drug use has made Rodriguez the historically outstanding player that he is and whilst I’m not completely comfortable about celebrating his achievements, I’m equally uncomfortable in deciding not to recognise them as achievements at all.

From the point of view of simply adding the hits up, you could even say that Rodriguez’s use of drugs can be put to one side. For every potential out that became a hit (not that you could ever calculate that in any meaningful way), there have been numerous lost at-bats from his suspensions and – potentially – lost games on the Disabled List linked to the negative effects of drug use (again, impossible for us to quantify, so that’s purely conjecture).

That’s a view to be debated, but the caveats in the last paragraph just sum up that if you’re taking a black or white stance on it then you do so knowing that you are deliberately putting to one side all the complexities.

Rodriguez’s hit total doesn’t require an asterisk next to it because every number and statistic stands on its own awaiting context and analysis. The record books will show that he collected over 3,000 hits in his Major League career and that he is one of very few players ever to do so.

 

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2 comments

Chris July 5, 2015 - 10:27 am

Hi Matt, and he did it with a home run too. The American baseball fans do seem forgiving, with Ryan Braun and Barry Bonds, 2 other stars with clouds over them, but still accepted in the game.

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John July 24, 2015 - 11:12 am

A lot of people said the same when Barry Bonds broke the all time Home Run record. Then everyone realised that Bonds was the greatest natural hitter ever to play the game, and in all liklihood would’ve achieved the feat without the use of PED’s (which does beg the question why he probably felt the need to use to them, given that he had such extraordinary ability anyway.) I think the same will be said of A-Rod in the years to come as regards his 3,000 hits. Did he use PED’s? Yes. Did they dramatically improve his performance, at least to the point whereby he wouldn’t have amssed 3,000 hits without them? Probably not.

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