08/04/07 2:08 PM ET
No weaknesses in A-Rod's game
Hitting home runs just part of the package
Rodriguez has become the 22nd player in Major League history to hit 500 home runs and he has done so at a record-setting pace. His power hitting credentials are in order.
You can project his home run pace into the future and make him the all-time homer king. It is an enjoyable sort of activity. And you can do it with some peace of mind, since Rodriguez has never been touched with even a hint of allegations of illicit substance usage. Hey, he is actually a bit thinner than he was in recent seasons.
But the power is just one aspect of the overall Alex Rodriguez portrait. He can run, he can throw, he can catch, he can hit for average. He is the package. There is nothing resembling a weak area, or even an average area, in his game. So why hasn't near-unanimous acclamation followed every step of this career?
The problems with being A-Rod are twofold. One is the money. When most of us consider the words "money" and "problem" together, we reflexively think "not enough." With A-Rod, it is the opposite. Money problem -- too much.
When Rodriguez signed the 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers, after the 2000 season, this deal validated his status as the game's most talented player. But it also was a stratospheric economic transaction, so far above the norm as to suggest that if A-Rod was going to get the richest contract in the game's history that his performance should then be the greatest in the history of the game.
Of course this was too much money for one individual to be paid, unless that one individual was curing cancer and winning a Nobel Peace Prize on the same afternoon. The money made A-Rod the object of envy among his peers, and the object of incredibly high expectations from everybody else.
Nobody is as good as A-Rod's money said he was supposed to be. But you can't feel particularly sorry for a guy making $252 million.
And that leads to the second unresolved issue of this career. Alex Rodriguez, for all his greatness, has never been on a team that has won it all. In fact, after he left the Seattle Mariners, and then the Rangers, those two teams both improved, at least temporarily. In the Mariners' case, they won an American League-record 116 games in 2001, post A-Rod.
"You can't win the World Series with Alex Rodriguez on your club," one Major League manager said recently. "We can all speculate on the reasons, but that's what the record says."
There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of stories, particularly since A-Rod's arrival in New York, about the fact that he is not beloved by his teammates. Some of this might be inherent to his personality. He would not be likely to win a clubhouse popularity contest, but that kind of thing is not a prerequisite for greatness. Some of this might be, once again, a normal, human, envious reaction. Objectively, A-Rod is wealthier, more talented, more intelligent, and better looking than many of his teammates. This is precisely the kind of guy that many people in any walk of life aren't going to like.
Maybe these teams that Alex Rodriguez has been on weren't supposed to win the World Series. Look at this year. The guy had one of the greatest Aprils in the history of the game, but the Yankees had a losing month because their starting pitchers couldn't even get to the sixth inning. Was that A-Rod's fault? He could have carried the Yankees then, if they had been capable of going anywhere.
OK, he has not personified greatness in the postseason, but he wasn't acting alone, for instance, in 2004 when the Yankees lost a three-game lead and the AL Championship Series. It is also not A-Rod's fault that the Yankees have not had the kind of lock-down pitching that characterizes teams with postseason success, such as the Yankees of the late 1990s.
Amid the usual A-Rod discussion, comes the beauty of the 500 home runs. There can be no arguments, no disputes, no quarrels about money, or personality, or how good the other 24 guys on the team actually were. Alex Rodriguez hit the 500 home runs and he hit them in a hurry. The ability behind those 500 home runs cannot be debated. Like the bulk of A-Rod's career, at some point, it must be appreciated.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.