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.

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Torii Hunter Channels Jimmy the Greek, Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh: Angels Outfielder Calls Latin Players “Imposters”.

Though Torii Hunter may have been on to something, he picked a poor way to tackle a taboo subject.

In what may have been a rare case of an athlete’s comments actually being taken out of context, Torii Hunter repeatedly put his foot in his mouth in a recent interview with USA Today about racial diversity in baseball. Hunter was discussing the number of African-American players in baseball when he made the following comments:   

“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African-American. They’re not us. They’re impostors. Even people I know come up and say: ‘Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player?’ I say, ‘Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.”   

But unfortunately, he wasn’t done there:   

“As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It’s like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. It’s like, ‘Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?’ … I’m telling you, it’s sad.”   

Needless to say Hunter’s comments created a media firestorm that caused him to backtrack from what he said and apologize profusely. But amidst his unfortunate choice of words in regards to Latin players, was Hunter addressing a real issue in baseball?   

Yes and no.   

Just to be clear, Vladimir Guerrero is Dominican, not African-American.

Hunter’s one salient point in the interview concerned the fact that fans have the tendency to lump all dark-skinned players into the same category, which is unfair to all parties involved. Clearly the ethnic experience of an African-American player is going to be different from that of a player from Venezuela or the Dominican Republic, and those differences need to be recognized. Baseball is the most international of any American sport and it benefits from having the best players from all around the globe. The unique fusion of different cultures makes baseball a melting pot very representative of American society as a whole. What Hunter was likely trying to say is that the differences between African-American players and Dominican players should be acknowledged and celebrated by fans, rather than trying to create a homogenous sport. 

If Hunter had stopped at that point and used a different word than imposters his comments probably wouldn’t have generated such a backlash, but saying that baseball is trying to pass of Latin players as African-Americans is a bit paranoid and completely off-base. Baseball doesn’t care about the color of skin its players have, but it does want the most talented players, and for the past few decades a steady stream of superstars has been coming out of Venezuela (Felix Hernandez, Johan Santana, etc.), Puerto Rico (Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez, etc.), Cuba (Aroldis Chapman) and the Dominican Republic (Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero, etc). Hunter seems concerned and maybe even jealous about the lack of African-American players in baseball (just over 10% in 2008–the most in over a decade) but the simple truth is that for quite some time African-Americans have been drawn to football and basketball, which offer quick money and more glamorous lifestyles without having to toil away in the obscurity of the minor leagues. A lack of African-American players in baseball does not make the sport racist anymore than the lack of white players makes basketball racist.  It’s a matter of talent, not race.

Hopefully Torii Hunter sticks to talking about what he knows from now on…baseball.

Twin City Thunder: Is Joe Mauer the Best Player in Baseball?

The Man. The Myth. The Sideburns.

The Man. The Myth. The Sideburns.

Joe Mauer is as American as apple pie. He wins over the ladies with his matinee idol looks and the men with his talented play. He hits well, runs well, throws well and plays exceptional defense at a premium position. He’s got sideburns that would make Joe Dirt Elvis blush and fittingly  he stars for his hometown team, the Minnesota Twins. Oh yeah, and he just discovered his power stroke, begging the question: is Joe Mauer the best player in baseball?

Since being recalled from the disabled list on May 2, Mauer has been hotter than Roy Hobbes after he got back with Glenn Close in The Natural (yes the same Glenn Close who cameoed as a pirate in Hook; say what you will about Roy’s choice in women, but the man sure could hit a baseball). In just 25 games and 87 at-bats, Mauer has hit at a ridiculous .425 clip, to go along with 11 HRs, 32 RBIs and 26 runs. Eleven longballs in one month is a lot for anyone not named Sammy Sosa, let alone someone who only smacked 9 HRs in all of 2008.

It’s no secret to the league that Joe Mauer can hit (.322 career BA), but he’s mainly been a doubles and singles guy in his first 5 years in the league. Now that he has begun to flex his muscles, pitchers are grappling to find any weakness in Mashin’ Mauer’s game. His career high in homeruns (13) is already in sight, a year (2006) in which he went deep once every 40 ABs. This season Mauer is sending a ball into the bleachers every 7.6 ABs; that’s Barry Bonds circa 2001 territory. Besides providing fans with ample souvenirs thus far, he is also establishing himself as one of baseball’s elite players.

Joltin' Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball right now.

Joltin' Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball right now.

Joltin’ Joe has always been viewed as one of the rising stars of the game, an abnormally large and athletic catcher who could handle a pitching staff (2008 Gold Glove) and make solid contact at the dish (2006 and 2008 AL batting champ). He also flashed good speed for a backstop (28 SBs between 2005-07) and a keen batting eye (career 309/246 walk-to-strikeout ratio). Even though he is entering his sixth year in the league, Mauer is still just 26-years-old, and it appears that his continued maturation as a hitter has allowed him to discover which pitches to drive and how to make pitchers pay for leaving balls out over the plate.

Extrapolated over the rest of the season his current stat-line suggests that Mauer is on pace for 61 HRs and 178 RBIs. While he probably won’t finish with those otherworldly numbers, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he finishes with 30+ bombs to go along with his usual .300 BA. This new facet of Mauer’s game should put him the same breathe as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera. Yes, he’s that good. In fact, if this recent power surge is for real (and there is every reason to believe it is), Joe Mauer may just be the best player in game, hands down. Offensively, defensively–you name it, Mauer is firing on all cylinders at a time when the sport desperately needs a face lift.

Baseball’s savior has arrived…and his name is Joe Mauer.