Alex Rodriguez finished his 22-year career with a .295 batting average, 696 home runs and 2,086 runs batted in. (Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since Alex Rodriguez announced his retirement from baseball Aug. 7, a popular game in sports media has been to ask writers if they think the former New York Yankees infielder should be in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Judging from the reactions I’ve seen, the odds aren’t in A-Rod’s favor, but that may change. Mark Feinsand summed up the sentiment in the New York Daily News: “There is no question that A-Rod had a Hall of Fame career. Whether that’s enough to look past his PED [performance-enhancing drug] use is a question I’m not quite ready to answer yet. If he were on the ballot this year, I would leave him off, but a lot can change in five years”—when Rodriguez first will be eligible for election into the Hall. The reason most cited, of course, is Rodriguez’s connection to drugs and other substances banned in the basic agreement between owners and players. But since the issue of PEDs will probably fade in time, we should pause to remind ourselves that Rodriguez was also regularly considered the most disliked player in baseball—and even, by some, the most disliked player in baseball history—long before his association with drugs became known. (Sunday’s Daily News features a story titled “A-Hole To Fill: Alex Rodriguez leaves massive hole in the media world.”) Most frequently mentioned among Rodriguez’s offenses was his signing of a $252 million contract to play for the Texas Rangers before the 2001 season. A fact often buried in that story was that the Rangers were negotiating a cable TV contract worth an estimated $250 million contingent on their signing a major new Hispanic star. Well, they got him, they got their $250 million cable deal—and all the extra tickets and T-shirts they sold were gravy. Looking back on the deal, I’d say that the Rangers, if they were being honest, would have to admit that signing Rodriguez was cheap at the price. When the Yankees assumed the balance of his contract, the New York press reacted as if the franchise was doomed—giving so much money to one player, everyone said, was going to kill the development of the Yankees farm system. Why was it not noticed that the deal for Rodriguez included sending Alfonso Soriano and a minor leaguer to Texas, saving some salary dollars, and that the Rangers covered part of the $179 million remaining on A-Rod’s contract? Whether the press understood it or not, Yankees president Randy Levine called the deal “a win-win” and general manager Brian Cashman declared it “nothing short of spectacular.” Twelve years later, the Yankees continue to use Rodriguez’s salary burden as the reason they have not restocked their depleted farm system. Now that he’s gone, we’ll see. But what else, really, do we have to hold against A-Rod when the time comes to vote for the Hall of Fame? That he slapped a ball out of someone’s glove or yelled “ha!” causing someone to drop a pop-fly? Or that he ran across the pitcher’s mound and thus violated an unwritten rule which no one had ever heard of until that moment? Yeah, I guess the magazine photo where he was kissing himself in the mirror was silly, but really, the argument against A-Rod all comes down to the PEDs. It’s worth mentioning that the substances he eventually admitted to using while with the Rangers from 2001 to 2003—Primobolan and testosterone—weren’t banned at the time. In 2003, every major league player, through their union, agreed to anonymous testing in an effort to determine how prevalent the drug problem in baseball was. Not until the 2004 basic agreement was a drug policy agreed upon, making those substances illegal. But in 2003, the anonymous test samples were illegally seized by federal agents as part of an investigation into San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds and the state-of-the-art steroids factory BALCO, and eventually the names of some players who had tested positive were leaked, conveniently, to the press. So, really, we’re down to the Biogenesis mess in 2013, and it would have been difficult for any player to have made more of an ass of himself than Rodriguez did in denying he purchased banned substances and threatening to sue MLB for fining him and suspending him for 211 games. The issue of cheating and lying should be tempered by the fact that there has never been any credible evidence that anything considered a performance-enhancing drug has enhanced any baseball player’s performance in the slightest. The only exception, I think, is Bonds, who was a live lab rat for BALCO. What’s the evidence that the stuff Rodriguez or anyone else was buying from disreputable peddlers like Anthony Bosch of Biogenesis (who didn’t even have a medical degree) were even PEDs? There is none. You can easily go on the internet and find numerous studies that debunk the notion that any drugs are performance enhancing, no matter what publicity-mongers such as Jose Canseco claim to the contrary. So let me confine this to Alex Rodriguez: There’s no evidence that anything he took inflated his home run total.
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