41. Because A-Rod Has Babe Ruth in His Sights

Illustration by Eddie Guy

Now that A-Rod finally has his ring, can we agree that his admittedly odd personality doesn’t affect his play on the field? This was a year riddled with steroid, dating, and centaur scandals, and he still had a killer season and an even better playoffs. It is time to take seriously the possibility that we are witnessing the greatest baseball career since Babe Ruth’s.

If A-Rod can stay healthy—and his rehab from hip injury went so well this year that the Yankees are forgoing a scheduled postseason surgery—he will challenge almost every record in the books. He has eight seasons left on his contract with the Yankees, and if he averages 22.5 homers a season over that time, he’ll pass Barry Bonds. In terms of runs created—a stat used to evaluate a player’s overall offensive impact—A-Rod is currently 24th all-time and rising quickly. Bonds is first, Ruth second. Unlike Bonds, A-Rod now has a World Series title, with eight chances to grab some more. Unlike Ruth, he’s an all-around player: He’s spent his entire career at crucial defensive positions, short and third—and he’s already notched more than twice as many stolen bases as the Bambino. If he can stay consistent in his late career, he’ll be the most complete player in history.

What are his chances of keeping it up? At the beginning of the 2009 season, Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus took a look at A-Rod’s future to see if he could break Bonds’s home-run record. Silver’s answer was no—in fact, he saw A-Rod falling off a cliff, hitting only four homers at age 41 (he’s 34 now). But Silver was limiting his analysis to projections based on the way past players’ careers wound down. A-Rod’s work ethic—and advances in sports medicine generally—could keep him going far longer than players of bygone eras. Bonds, for example, hit 26 homers when he was 41. This year, A-Rod got to 30 homers in 90 fewer plate appearances than Baseball Prospectus had pegged him for.

Assuming that A-Rod plays out the rest of his contract as a Yankee, he will have been a member of the team for fourteen full seasons, more than Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, or Joe DiMaggio, and one less than Ruth. He will have won multiple MVPs, challenged almost every record there is, and come through at every possible opportunity to help end a decadelong World Series drought. He will stand as the symbol of this team’s 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. Right now, we may be watching the Truest Yankee of them all.

41. Because A-Rod Has Babe Ruth in His Sights