Redemption Song: A-Rod Slugs His Way Out of Purgatory

Vanity may be a sin, but it's not a crime.

Vanity may be a sin but it’s not a crime.

Despite what you may have been told by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, Alex Rodriguez is not the devil.

In a sports world filled with murderers, wife-beaters and drunk drivers, the vilified Yankees’ slugger worst sin was trying to gain an advantage on the field of play.

Think about that for a second.

If the NFL put the same amount of effort towards curbing domestic violence as baseball did building a case against A-Rod, would the headlines still be smattered with stories of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy?

Yet, in spite of the relatively benign nature of his transgressions, Rodriguez was forced to spend all of last season in baseball purgatory. MLB and Selig seemed to think it could solve its steroid problem by casting all the blame on one player (it’s not the first time) and then publicly flogging their artificially enhanced pariah. It, uh, didn’t work.

The 2015 season rolled around after what must have felt like an eternity, and A-Rod, healthy and freed from the tyrannical reign of Selig came out swinging, reminding fans that he’s still one of the most talented players in baseball — with or without performance enhancing drugs.

After the first 19 games of the year, A-Rod leads the AL in walks and is 4th in HR, 9th in slugging and 10th in OPS. His fast start to the season is even more impressive when you consider that he missed all of 2014 and plays for a team that really doesn’t want him around.

Rodriguez’s superlative skill set was on full display at Tampa Bay on April 18 as he drilled two home run including the longest shot of 2015. That moon shot not only gave New York a 1-0 lead, but also served as metaphorical giant middle finger to Selig, who likely thought he had hammered the final nail into A-Rod’s career with a 162-game suspension.

The Yankees weren’t expected to compete in a deep AL East this year but thanks to A-Rod’s potent presence in the lineup they find themselves atop the division with an 11-8 record. New York may not want Rodriguez, but it needs him.

Rodriguez is a cheater and a liar. But he’s also a helluva baseball player who’s overcome Titanic sized hurdles to find himself on the brink of history. The national pastime’s prodigal son has returned and he’s not leaving anytime soon.

So go ahead and cheer for A-Rod, because unlike the real criminals of sport, he deserves a second third chance.

arodhomerunswing

ALCS Preview: NY Yankees vs. LA Angels

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins, is the Angels' Rally Monkey next?

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins. Is the Angels' Rally Monkey next on his list?

It’s a tale as old as time. Light versus dark, good versus evil, heaven versus hell, and of  course, Angels vs Demons Yankees. It’s difficult to find two teams more diametrically opposed than L.A. and New York, and fittingly the bi-coastal rivals meet in the 2009 ALCS to determine who will represent the American League in this year’s World Series. The Yankees and Angels were 1-2 in the AL in wins, but got there in vastly different ways. One team relied on speed, timely hitting,  sacrifice bunts and the dreaded “productive out”. The other team found success with sheer brawn, overpowering inferior opponents with an offensive barrage that made the U.S.’s invasion of Normandy look like child’s play. Which style will prevail when the two meet head-to-head in a no-holds barred cage match? Let’s break it down:

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Offense: Though the Yankees trio of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira receive more recognition than any L.A. hitter, the Angels had one of the most balanced lineups in all of baseball. The Halos averaged 5.5 runs per game in setting a single season franchise record for runs (the Yanks were slightly better at 5.6 runs per game). Although they’re not as explosive as New York, eight of L.A.’s starters hit .287 or better on the year, leading to a tremendous .285 team average. The team’s sparkplug is leadoff man Chone Figgins who stole 42 bases to go along with a .395 OBP. He sets the table for Bobby Abreu (.293-15 HR-103 RBI-30 SB), Torii Hunter (.299-22-90), Vladimir Guerrero (.295-15-50), Kendry Morales (.306-34-108) and Juan Rivera (.287-25-88). There are no easy outs in the lineup, and the Angels combination of patience at the plate and speed on the basepaths will make them a difficult matchup for Yankee pitchers. New York counters with the league’s highest scoring lineup headlined by Teixeira (.292-39-122), A-Rod (.286-30-100) and Jeter (.334-18-66). There’s great depth in the Bronx Bombers lineup, as players like Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui produce in whatever portion of the lineup that Joe Girardi employs them. Both teams are solid top-to-bottom, but there is a reason that the Yankees led the AL in runs, OBP, slugging and OPS–they’re really good. Advantage: New York

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Starting Pitching: It sounds like Girardi is planning to go with a 3-man rotation for the series, a good idea given that the Yankees’ rotation drops off precipitously after C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettite. Sabathia looked sharp against the Twins and New York will rely on the hefty lefty to get them a win in game one. The Yankees #2 starter, Burnett, is consistently inconsistent and got a win in the ALDS despite issuing 5 walks; he won’t be able to get away with that against the Angels. The savvy vet of the group, Pettite, has an impressive postseason resume and enough guts and guile to keep the Yankees within striking distance. The Angels starting pitching has been sub par all season, finishing 9th in the AL with a 4.45 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. The ace of the staff is John Lackey, a proven winner who bounced back from an early injury to post a strong season (11-8, 3.83 ERA). Jered Weaver will likely get the start in game two, and despite the fact that he is Jeff Weaver’s brother and sports a wicked mullet, was solid throughout the season and against Boston in the ALDS. After Lackey and Weaver, the Angels could go with either Scott Kazmir or Joe Saunders, two players who had horrendous starts to the season, but looked much better in the second half. Neither of these pitching staffs is a sure thing, but the Yankees get the nod because of Pettite’s experience. Advantage: New York

Relief Pitching: The bullpen is the only facet of this series where these two teams don’t match up at all. Despite the fact that they led the majors with 51 saves, the Angels relief pitching is still a major question mark. Closer Brian Fuentes was erratic all season long, finishing the year with a 3.93 ERA and an even more unsightly 1.40 WHIP. Fuentes blew 7 saves in the regular season and he can’t afford to keep putting extra runners on base against a potent Yankees’ attack. On the other hand, New York counters with arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time, Mariano Rivera. The “Panamanian Canalligator” is 8-1 in the playoffs, with 35 saves and a redonkulous 0.74 ERA; Rivera makes Michael Jordan look like A-Rod in crunch time–he’s as clutch as they come. The Yankees also found a dependable setup man in Phil Hughes and will have Joba Chamberlain available if need be. This one’s a no doubter. Advantage: New York

With Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

With lights-out Mariano Rivera in the bullpen the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

Coaching:  There are few managers more respected in the game of baseball than Mike Scioscia and for good reason, his teams love him and he wins games. Scioscia guided the Angels to a World Series title in 2002 and has only recorded one losing season since taking over in L.A. following the 1999 season. He’s a great X’s and O’s guy who emphasizes a National League style of play, which his team is perfectly suited for, and he consistently gets the most out of everyone on the Angels’ roster. Girardi rebounded after a tumultuous season to led the Yankees to the best record in baseball (103-59) and has done an admirable job managing some of the games highest paid players. Scioscia’s been here before, expect him to have the Angels ready to give the Yankees a run for their money. Advantage: Los Angeles

Outcome: This is a matchup that baseball analysts call “intriguing” simply because there isn’t much else to say about it. The Yankees are a markedly better team than the Angels with advantages in offense, starting pitching and relief pitching. New York looks like a team on a mission, and now that A-Rod discovered how to hit in the postseason (thank you Kate Hudson), Los Angeles will have their hands full trying to stop the Yankees from returning to their first World Series since 2001. The Angels will sneak out a couple of wins but New York will ultimately win the series in 6 games, as Teixeira garners ALCS MVP honors, and fans worldwide will once again have to put up with the evil empire in the World Series.

Manny being Manny? Ramirez suspended 50 games for violation of MLB’s drug policy.

Ramirez's suspension will cost him 50 games and nearly $8 million.

Ramirez's suspension will cost him 50 games and nearly $8 million.

It appears that Alex Rodriguez’s confession in March was only the tip of the iceberg. When news broke early this morning that Manny Ramirez had violated MLB’s drug policy, two questions came to mind: Was he simply ignorant about what he was putting into his body? Or did he actually have the audacity to try and circumvent the rules and still use steroids even after the A-Rod debacle?

The reports that went out today indicated that Ramirez tested positive for a women’s fertility drug, which caused an increased level of testosterone in his body, leading to a positive drug test and the resulting 50-game suspension. Ramirez claimed that the positive test was triggered by a medication that he recently received from a physician for an unspecified medical condition. However, the drug hCG has been linked to other players such as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, and is commonly used by body builders to restart testosterone production following a steroid cycle. Ramirez has not yet explained why he was taking hCG and does not plan to appeal the suspension.

This shocking revelation couldn’t have come at a worse time for baseball, with teams already struggling to sell tickets in a down economy and A-Rod set to return to the field for the first time since he admitted to Peter Gammons that he took steroids. Ramirez, despite his numerous shortcomings, is one of the most popular players in the game and was seemingly above the cloud of suspicion surrounding baseball’s best hitters over the past decade. Manny is 17th on the all-time HR list with 533, and fans had hoped that he would be able to pass tainted sluggers like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. But in today’s society, it doesn’t take long for the players once praised to become the target of jeers and insults.

Besides the long-term effects to his reputation, Ramirez’s suspension will clearly hurt the Dodgers (who will be without his services until July 3rd) as well as his teammates from the Indians, Red Sox and Dodgers who will all be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism moving forward. Does Ramirez’s suspension mean that his former bash brothers Jim Thome and David Ortiz took steroids? No, but it certainly doesn’t help their case, or that of any player from this current era. Fans, still reeling from the A-Rod scandal and continued allegations, will find it more and more difficult to believe that any player is truly clean. The titans of the game continue to fall at an alarming rate; how long until another hero falls from his pedestal and how long will fans continue to support this kind of hypocrisy?

The Dodgers may still make the playoffs, but the chances of Manny entering the HOF took a serious hit.

The Dodgers may still make the playoffs, but the chances of Manny entering the HOF took a serious hit.

The Dodgers had raced out to a MLB best 21-8 (including 13 in a row at home) thanks to stellar pitching and the steady bat of Ramirez, who was batting .348 with 6 HRs and 20 RBIs. The team will now be without its best hitter for nearly one-third of the season, and Ramirez will be forced to return about $7.5 of the $25 million he was set to make this season. Baseball Prospectus indicates that Ramirez’s abscence will cost the Dodgers about 3 games, which still puts them on pace for 95 wins, tops in the NL.

The Dodgers will probably still make the playoffs and Manny will still probably put up big numbers throughout the remainder of his contract. But what happens when Ramirez becomes a free agent? Will any team be willing to gamble on a poor fielder and teammate who tested positive for a substance linked to steroids? And what about when Manny retires? A sure fire Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time, Ramirez will likely join other convicted cheaters like Bonds, Palmeiro and A-Rod on the outside looking in to Cooperstown.

It’s a sad day for baseball. The once sunny and free-spirited Manny Ramirez will be covered in a dark cloud for the rest of his career. The red-hot Dodgers will be without their best hitter for 50 games. And most tragically, fans will once again lose a hero of the game, as another of their idols falls from grace into the bleak oblivion that is the Steroids Era.

Are there brighter days ahead for America’s past-time? I’m not so sure anymore…

2009 MLB Season Preview, Predictions and Projections

Your 2009 NL MVP

Your 2009 NL MVP

The sun is shining, the snow is melting and Oprah’s weight is ballooning again–which can only mean one thing…that’s right ladies and germs, Spring Training is upon us. That glorious time of year when every team (not including the Royals, Nationals, Mariners, Orioles, Pirates or any team from the NL West) believes its their turn to win it all. A time when young players have a chance to prove their worth and seasoned vets fight for one last shot (paging Mike Sweeney to the manager’s office). A time of year when A-Rod dodges every question thrown his way and Brett Favre once again “retires” for good. A time to look at ahead at what baseball is bringing to the table in 2009 and ask important questions like: Which team will be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays? Will the Yankees off season spending spree pay off? Who framed Roger Rabbit? Can Albert Pujols hit .400? Will Manny Ramirez find a team? Who will win the World Series? It’s prognostication time! Let’s start with the individual movers and shakers in each league:

AL MVP–Grady Sizemore (Cleveland Indians CF): Just 26 years-old, this kid keeps getting better, and 2009 is the year he makes his mark and becomes a true superstar. One of the most talented all-around players in the game, Sizemore’s combination of speed and power at the top of the lineup are more frightening than Barry Bonds’ bacne. He has the potential to become the first 40HR-40SB player since Alfonso Soriano and if he can lead the Indians to the playoffs, voters will be hard pressed not to pick this 5-tool talent.

2009 projected season numbers (.285 BA-37HR-101RBI-37SB-107R)

NL MVP–David Wright (New York Mets 3B): The third baseman in New York who isn’t dating Madonna, this uber-talented diaper dandy (who like Sizemore, is just 26) excells at the dish but has also captured two Gold Gloves, and should break out with his best season yet. More importantly, the Mets finally have a bullpen, which should allow them to reach the postseason, further helping Wright’s case. He could one day win a triple crown, but he will have to “settle” for MVP this year.

2009 projected season numbers (.310 BA-40HR-129RBI-20SB-120R)

AL Cy Young–Roy Halladay (Toronto Blue Jays): “Doc” Halladay will come out with guns-a-blazin in 2009, eager to pick up the slack left by since departed teammate AJ Burnett. Arguably the most consistent pitcher in the game, Halladay epitomizes the term “workhorse” gobbling up innings like Ruben Studdard gobbles up hoho’s. He won 20 games last year, and had the highest strikeout rate of his career; as long he stays healthy, he should put up big numbers again. The Blue Jays will stink in 2009, but Roy Halladay will come out smelling like roses…or whatever flowers Canadians love.

2009 projected season numbers: (19-8, 2.85 ERA, 200 Ks, 1.07 WHIP)

NL Cy Young–Johan Santana (New York Mets):  While it’s generally hard to hide out in New York, Santana’s terriffic first season in a Mets’ uniform was largely overshadowed by the teams’ late season collapse. Despite a porous bullpen, Santana finished the year 16-7 and led the league with a 2.53 ERA and finished second to Tim Lincecum with 206 Ks. He should again finish near the top of the league in ERA and Ks and will almost certainly win more games than last year thanks to the additions of JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez.

2009 projected season numbers (21-8, 2.71 ERA, 220 Ks, 1.09 WHIP)

You don't recognize him...yet.

You don't recognize him...yet.

AL Rookie of the Year–Matt Laporta (Cleveland Indians OF): Matt LaPorta (pictured right) was the crown jewel of the CC Sabathia trade last summer, instantly becoming the Cleveland Indians best prospect upon his arrival. In just 302 ABs at Double-A last season, LaPorta cracked 20 HRs and drove in 66, to go with a .288 BA and .402 OBP. He might start the year in the minors, but when he does arrive, expect a strong season from Ryan Braun 2.0.

2009 season projected numbers: (.279-18HRs-71RBIs-60Rs)

NL Rookie of the Year–Colby Rasmus (St Louis Cardinals OF): Colby Rasmus is the #1 prospect in the Cardinal’s farm system, and if he finds some way into playing time in the St Louis outfield logjam, should turn a lot of heads. A 5-tool talent, Rasmus struggled in the minors last year (.251-12HR-38RBI) but was hampered by injuries, and is expected to head into the 2009 system at full health. Look for Rasmus to team up with Albert Pujols to create a formidable 1-2 punch in the lineup for years to come.

2009 projected season numbers: (.290-20HRs-78RBIs-68Rs)

Coming soon: 2009 projected finishes and World Series winner!

Alex Rodriguez Steroid Scandal: A Dark Day For Baseball

A-Rod tested positive in '03.

A-Rod tested positive in '03.

The news that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003 hit MLB like an Ivan Drago punch to the gut. Rodriguez was supposed to be the new poster boy for baseball, the cornerstone upon which the sport could rebuild its image after the devastation caused by Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and the rest of the Juicers. A-Rod was going to take down every record that Bonds set, removing the tarnished numbers and replacing them with those of an honest, hardworking player who did it the right way. Sure Rodriguez is no Hank Aaron, but fans would have much rather seen him atop the all-time homerun list than Bonds. A-Rod was supposed to go on and hit 800+ homeruns, a number that would have stood without an asterisk–until now.

Now, every player in the game is guilty until proven innocent. Unless the players union releases the other 103 names that were on the list, (the players who tested positive in ‘03 along with A-Rod) there will be a cloud of suspicion every time a ball leaves the park. Rodriguez was going to be the one to clean up the mess that the steroid era left behind, but now all he has done is fan the flames. With Bonds on trial, Roger Clemens facing the possibility of perjury charges and now the game’s best player admitting he used PEDs, baseball has some major work to do to restore its image. The sport has recovered from scandals in the past like the rigged 1919 World Series  or the cancelled World Series in 1994, but what saved baseball both those times–the homerun. Babe Ruth slugging longballs into the upperdeck helped fans forget about the Black Sox and McGwire and Sosa did the same in 1998. But how can the homerun save baseball again if fans doubt the legitimacy of every player who steps up to the plate?

A-Rod did the right thing by admitting his use of PEDs in an interview with Peter Gammons, but he dodged so many questions that people will have a difficult time believing anything he says from now on. Players like Jason Giambi and Andy Pettite have recovered from admitting to the use of steroids, but they were no where near as high profile as Rodriguez, and neither one was poised to break the most hallowed records in baseball. McGwire clearly suffered from his refusal to talk about the past and Rafael Palmeiro did even more damage to his reputation after lying before congress, and then trying to sell out his teammate.

Will fans forgive A-Rod?

Will fans forgive A-Rod?

Will fans be able to forgive A-Rod and embrace him like they did with those other players, or will he be showered with Bronx Cheers every time he goes deep? Rodriguez has the potential to play for 8-10 more seasons and, by the time he retires, will fans have simply forgotten about this 15-year-old mistake? Not likely, if he is the new homerun king; numbers mean more to baseball fans than followers of any other sport. But does he deserve to suffer this much abuse when steroid abuse was likely more widespread during the 1990s and early 2000s than anyone wants to believe?

Alex Rodriguez was likely to leave the game as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players of all time. At only 33 he is already a 12-time All-Star, 3 time MVP (2003, 2005, 2007) and the youngest ever to reach 500 homeruns. He has won 2 Gold Gloves and also swiped 283 bases, making him one of the best 5-tool players ever. But none of that matters anymore. Even if A-Rod did only use steroids during his three year stint in Texas (during which he hit the most home runs in any 3-year-span of his career: 156) everything he has accomplished is viewed as tainted, and if voting trends continue involving suspected steroid users, Rodriguez probably won’t be joining Hank Aaron in Cooperstown. A-Rod could go on to hit 1000 HRs, but it will never change what he did, and how he cheated the game.

The mighty have fallen in baseball, the game’s golden boy knocked suddenly and unexpectedly from his pedestal. Is there anyone left to inherit his crown? Will any star ever again be free of scrutiny and suspicion? The damage A-Rod did to himself may one day be repaired, but what he has done to the entire sport of baseball will linger forever…

Career Stats: http://www.baseball-reference.com/r/rodrial01.shtml