true yankee

Alex Rodriguez, Now Free to Be Inner Sanctum Hall of Famer

True Yankee?

Alex Rodriguez now has his World Series ring. It has taken him fifteen seasons, three teams, 9,611 regular-season plate appearances, and more than a quarter-billion dollars in lifetime salary. It’s something no one can ever take away from him, and it should answer all possible questions about his career. He’s an obvious Hall of Famer — it stands to reason that voters will have made some semblance of peace with the PED issue by the time he’s eligible, in about fifteen years or so — and, if he can remain somewhat healthy for the rest of his career, he might go down as one of the ten best players in baseball history. So yeah, it has been a good week for that guy.

At the beginning of the season, the estimable Nate Silver took a look at A-Rod’s future (registration required) to see if he could break Barry Bonds’s home-run record. Silver forecast that, no, he would not. In fact, he guesstimated that A-Rod’s production would darned near fall off a cliff: He had him hitting 30 homers next year, 27 the year after, and all the way down to 4 in 2017, a season in which the Yankees will be paying him $20 million. (Not counting $6 million bonuses for each home-run milestone: 660, 714, 755, and beating Bonds’s record.)

More than eight months after Silver’s projection, it still seems pessimistic. Silver predicted A-Rod would hit 33 homers this year, which is three more than he actually hit. Of course, Silver’s projection was before A-Rod’s hip surgery caused him to miss the first month of the season. The projection accounts for injuries down the line, of course, but if A-Rod is healthy next year, as he is expected to be, it’s hard to imagine him not passing the 30 mark Silver set for him. (And if he’s seriously hitting four in 2017 with that $20 million salary, the Yankees will put that centaur down, gangland-style.) A-Rod is at 583 right now, and he needs 763 to pass Bonds. He has eight seasons left on his contract; he needs to average 22.5 homers a season to do it in the Bronx. You want to bet against that, PECOTA, or no?

That’s just homers. If you look at Runs Created Against Average — a stat used to compare players throughout generations, which some consider definitive — A-Rod is 24th lifetime. If he is able to stay healthy, he should be in the top ten within the next three seasons. He could eventually reach No. 3, behind Bonds and Babe Ruth. Unlike Bonds (and fellow top-ten player Ted Williams), he now has a World Series title.

This is all to say: We are watching one of the elite players in baseball history ply his wares in New York City, right now. It’s not Derek Jeter. A-Rod will never have the True Yankee cache that Jeter or Mariano Rivera or Paul O’Neill has, and, if his play this postseason is any indicator, that doesn’t seem to bother him anymore. We have been focusing on his faults for so long that it has slipped by us. The rest of the country has long mocked Yankees fans for exalting Jeter and blasting A-Rod, the vastly superior player, but the reasoning was sound: He’d never won a title. Yankees have to win titles. Now he has one.

If A-Rod plays out the rest of his contract as a Yankee, he will have been a member of the team for fourteen seasons, longer than Thurman Munson, Casey Stengel, Don Mattingly, Reggie Jackson, and Ron Guidry. He will be one season short of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. He will have won multiple MVPs, challenged every record in the book, and come through at every possible opportunity to help end a decade-long World Series drought. He will have been the center of the Yankees lineup for fourteen years, and he will have been a champion. (At least once, and, likely, again.) He will stand as the symbol of true Yankee might, financial and otherwise, over the first decade-plus of the 21st century. And he will go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Yankees cap. If that’s not a True Yankee, what the heck is?

Alex Rodriguez, Now Free to Be Inner Sanctum Hall of Famer