Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Aging Hipster

Given how many writers still seem to have fun portraying Alex Rodriguez as some kind of cyst on the game of baseball, it's seems only appropriate that A-Rod develop one of his own, just so he knows how the game feels with him in it. Call it karmic penance. The condition began as a tightness and stiffness in his right hip, and has advanced to the point where Rodriguez is questionable for the upcoming World Baseball Classic (another one bites the dust).

But this post isn't meant to pillory A-Rod for his steroid-doing, nor to lament the ongoing laming of the WBC. Instead, this is a post about the home run record. The big one. The one formerly held by Henry Aaron, and now in the possession of one Barry Lamar Bonds. The new magic number: 762.

It was only a few short months ago that A-Rod still represented a prevailing hope that someone "clean" would break Bonds' record and restore a perceived legitimacy to baseball's most hallowed mark. And with 553 home runs through age 32, Rodriguez looked poised to deliver. After all, he simply needed to average a little over 23 homers over rest of his contract to do it, and he figured to be in the mid to high 30s for at least the next few seasons.

But then, of course, the public image A-Rod had constructed of himself collapsed under increased scrutiny when results of his 2003 steroid test was leaked. And suddenly, no one was hoping A-Rod would beat Bonds anymore. Because it's easy to categorize Bonds as a cheater, and to discount his accomplishments. Sure, he did amazing things on the baseball field, but his attitude and his seemingly shameless and repeated violation of baseball's PED policy, continued association with Greg Anderson, and unwillingness to give any quarter to his attackers turned him from a cartoonishly great hitter into a cartoonishly evil villain, one who could be swept aside in favor of the much beloved Aaron.

With A-Rod, who seemed play the game with dignity and pride and has had the decency to try to leave the circus behind when he steps on the field, it's harder to set him aside. He clearly had the talent before he began using. And statistical analysis suggest that his use may not have actually helped him at all. It's reasonable to question how much he used and how much it affected his play. And, as week as his apology was, A-Rod has apologized and has promised to try to recover some of the trust and goodwill he has lost. And that's something Bonds has never done. So to set A-Rod aside, and continue to acknowledge Aaron's record as sacrosanct would take significantly greater mental gymnastics that The Common Man doesn't think most members of the media and baseball fans look forward to.

Nate Silver offered a beacon of hope late last month when he announced that PECOTA sees A-Rod falling short of the mark. Silver wrote,
"PECOTA's best guess is that Rodriguez will finish with 730 lifetime home runs, running out of steam after another three or four seasons and leaving him just shy of the marks established by Aaron and Bonds. Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty in this estimate. If Rodriguez follows the path charted by Aaron or Frank Robinson [who were wildly successful in the late stages of their careers], he could finish with well in excess of 800 home runs (and possibly as many as 900). On the other hand, if he draws Albert Belle's ping-pong ball, he might not top 600. Overall, the system puts Rodriguez's chances of surpassing Aaron at only about four in 10 and of surpassing Bonds closer to three in 10."

And perhaps A-Rod's cyst is a sign of what to expect for the rest of his career. Small, chippy injuries that slowly take their toll on Rodriguez's body, slowing him until he has no hope of catching either Bonds or Aaron. Last year, after all, Rodriguez went to the DL for the first time since 1999, suffering from a strained quad. And if this is a precursor to additional hip problems (cysts can be associated with rheumatoid arthritis, the disease which quickly ended the career of Albert Belle), it could be a rapid descent indeed.

There's no right answer here. The Common Man himself is neither rooting for or against Alex Rodriguez. And if you want to root against A-Rod, you should go right ahead. But The Common Man does want to point out, again, that all the hand-wringing about records, about history, and about steroids is overblown. There is a chance that Alex Rodriguez will be the next home run king. But there's an even better chance that this is not even an issue. That Father Time and a death of a thousand cuts and strains and cysts will take care of the issue before it comes to a head. And maybe by the time the next contender for the throne comes along (Pujols?), everyone can just be a little more rational and a lot less star-struck about the whole process.


Anonymous said...
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Nicholas said...

He'll just use it an an excuse when he hits 10 home runs this year.

"Seriously guys, it was all because of the cyst I swear!"

lar said...

You mention A-Rod possibly going the route of Albert Belle... Something interesting to note is that Belle's career ended due to the same chronic hip problem that ended Bo Jackson's career. And, if you remember right, there was a lot of talk a little while back about Bo's hip condition being a fairly common side effect of using steroids. So, if Bo's hip condition was cause by steroids (big "if", I know) and Belle had the same condition as Bo, isn't there an equal chance of Belle's condition being caused by steroids? And now A-Rod is talking about cysts on his hip...

Honestly, I don't know enough about the hip condition that sidelined Bo and Belle nor do I know enough about cysts in general to say if any of this is related... I just thought it was appropriate to note all of that with the topic of this post and all

lar said...

oh... I meant to add, try googling for "bo jackson hip injury steroids"