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A-Rod and Bagwell

by Matt Smith

I’ve created a page, accessible from the menu bar, that brings together my division reviews from the 2010 MLB season.

As with any article or series, I sat down at the start of it and wrote some notes to collect my thoughts together on the key things that I remembered from the 2010 season for each team.  I then went through the stats (Baseball-Reference.com etc) and undertook some other research to see if I had misremembered anything or if any relevant points had slipped my memory completely.

I logged on to MLB.com just now to see if any news stories had broken over the past couple of days.   Brandon Webb’s possible signing with the Texas Rangers is the only notable news that I picked up on, but there was another story that really caught my eye.  It’s title is “A-Rod’s historic blast a 2010 highlight”.

Rodriguez’s 600th career home run didn’t make my review of the Yankees’ season for the simple reason that I forgot that it had happened.

Reading the story now calls to mind the lead-up to the event more than the event itself.   When you know something is almost certain to happen, the anticipation of it can often be more dramatic than the actual moment that eventually occurs.  Forty-seven at-bats passed between Rodriguez’s 599th and 600th home runs.  Every time he stepped up to the plate could have been the moment when he joined that elite group.  The pressure started to grow as every homer-less at-bat passed and while the law of averages suggested that it was only a matter of time, it reached the point where the inevitable didn’t seem so inevitable after all.

And that was just from the perspective as a baseball fan.  It must have been ten times more frustrating for Rodriguez.  Achievements that are so long in the making are less met by joy than by sheer relief.  As the YES Network’s Michael Kay put it: “the milestone that became a millstone is now officially a milestone”.

With one swing of the bat, Rodriguez achieved something that only six other players in the history of the sport have done.  Frankly, it’s a bit embarrassing that I didn’t remember such a rare moment just four months removed from it, but it says as much about A-Rod’s standing, and the era in which he has played, than it does about my forgetfulness.

Rodriguez’s home-run achievements, for hitting 600 is unlikely to be the last historic shot to leave his bat, will always be clouded by his admission of steroid use between 2001 and 2003.  It’s a cloud that not only dims the shining light of apparent success but also carries anaesthetic qualities.  The excitement and wonder of ‘600’ doesn’t seem quite so exciting and wonderful.

Even if he hadn’t made that statement, or more precisely been forced by circumstances to make that statement, suspicion would have still lingered.  That’s something all players of the last decade or so have to deal with, fairly or not.

That was highlighted by another article on MLB.com: Peter Gammons eloquently stating Jeff Bagwell’s case for being elected into the Hall of Fame.  It would be interesting to read a fellow writer that hasn’t put Bagwell on their ballot responding to Gammons’ piece because his argument appears very hard to dispute.

Bagwell’s numbers are Hall of Fame worthy.  If you wanted to downplay them due to a suspicion of steroid use that has no proof behind it, the negative effect of hitting in the Astrodome would arguably counterbalance any perceived ‘advantage’ Bagwell might have gained over players from different eras.  If you still wanted to count these suspicions against him on a ‘cheater’ argument, again you come up against the fact that there’s no proof he did cheat and also the fact that the Hall of Fame isn’t a paragon of virtue and innocence anyway.

Add in the intangible qualities that voters have every right to factor into their criteria for a Hall of Fame candidate (rather than, say, a Hall of Performance candidate), such as  playing the game ‘the right way’ and being acknowledged as one of the leading talents when he played, then Bagwell deserves the call at his first time of eligibility.  The current line of thinking is that this will not happen due to the uncertainty caused by the period in which he played.

My ‘slight’ against Rodriguez’s achievement was a genuine act of forgetfulness, but it is also indicative of my casual opinion towards it.  The potential non-election of Bagwell to the Hall of Fame (at the first attempt, at least) would be a calculated decision based on a general argument, rather than a considered evaluation of his career.

Both cases show the continuing impact that the ‘steroid era’ has on our perception of recent performances. It’s a shame in some ways, but also adds another layer of interest to the endless debates baseball fans of all ages have about achievements and careers.

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1 comment

Matt Smith December 29, 2010 - 4:49 pm

Jeff Bagwell’s own views on the ‘steroid era’ are well worth a read:



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