Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees

His 2014 season is history, as may be his career: so what is Alex Rodriguez’s legacy?

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In light of today’s ruling by the arbitrator, suspending him for 162 games, commentators will once again rush to the nearest television camera or take to their laptops and websites to tell us how Alex Rodriguez‘s legacy is now “forever tarnished” or words to that effect.

When they do so, however, they will have to forget, at least momentarily, that they declared A-Rod’s legacy as “forever tarnished” many, many times before.

The last time Alex Rodriguez was truly seen as anything other than profoundly damaged goods was when he played for the Seattle Mariners. He was then transformed from a supremely-talented All-Star into a greedy mercenary when he signed his $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers in January 2001 and had that image solidified when he opted out of it while with the Yankees and signed another huge deal in December 2007. He was branded a steroid cheat and effectively denied his rightful ticket to the Hall of Fame when word surfaced of his past performance enhancing drug use in early 2009. He made claims then about how he had only used on such and such an occasion and never did again, but no one believed him, even at the time.

So take your pick on when A-Rod’s legacy truly was tarnished. Some say when he signed that first big deal, some say when he signed that second, some say when he copped to taking PEDs, but it really doesn’t matter. He’s been branded a cheater for more nearly five years and a money-first, me-first player for well over a decade. Sprinkle in all of the petty p.r. things like the magazine interview in which he was pictured kissing himself in a mirror, his on-field controversies like trying to distract fielders and trying to walk over opposing pitchers’ mounds, the lurid stories of Rodriguez cavorting with stripperspop stars and movie stars and the constant unfavorable comparisons between him and teammate Derek Jeter and you have a player who has long been viewed unfavorably, rightly or wrongly.

Wrongly in my view. We’d all take $250 million if someone was dumb enough to give it to us. Most of A-Rod’s “controversies” have been silly little things. Those less silly — like his marital infidelity — are certainly not unprecedented among the rich and famous, even if we may personally disapprove. His PED use has gained him baseball’s largest drug suspension in history, but unless and until Major League Baseball reveals the evidence it claims to have against him for obstructing justice or doing other bad things which turned this from a first time offense which should have gotten him 50 games to a 162-game ban, we can’t honestly say that it was fundamentally different from that of other players who have been implicated in PEDs.

Many players who were so implicated — Andy Pettitte, Mark McGwire, the dozens of players who have served drug suspensions and returned to the game afterward — are thought of negatively when specific thought is actually put to the matter, but they are not seen as inherently evil pariahs. Pettitte was given a hero’s sendoff both times he retired. McGwire may not get Hall of Fame consideration, but he’s a hitting coach for the Dodgers.

A couple of other players are labeled monsters and thought of as cheaters first, elite ballplayers second in the eyes of most. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the biggest examples here. But it’s no coincidence that so much of the assessment of Bonds and Clemens follows what people thought of them before their drug histories came out — that they were jerks or standoffish or that their competitive fire burned a little too brightly, quite frankly. So it is too with A-Rod. Most people hated him before and overlooked just how amazing his baseball exploits have been over the past two decades, and now they hate him still, if not more.

Alex Rodriguez is a polarizing figure. He’s been his own worst enemy over and over again. But he’s long been though of as such and thus for us to say that today’s decision does anything to alter his legacy is disingenuous in the extreme. This is not a fall from grace. This is not a hero brought to his knees. A-Rod has been a widely hated and hated-on figure for far longer than he was ever considered, first and foremost, a baseball superstar and this is merely another brick in that very tall, very long and very solid wall.

A-Rod’s legacy, narrowly defined, should be that of an otherworldly talent who did otherworldly things. A shortstop who played elite defense AND hit .308/.382/.581 with 345 homers and 990 RBIs and multiple MVP-caliber seasons while he manned baseball’s most important defense position. A guy who then moved to third base and hit .291/.386/.534 with 309 home runs and 979 RBI, won two more MVP awards and led the league’s signature franchise to its last World Series title. Bill James once said of Rickey Henderson that, if you cut him in half, you’d have two Hall of Famers. The same is true of Alex Rodriguez. Each half of his career — his pre-Yankees and post-Yankees days — are independently historic.

But, unfortunately, that will always be farther down the list when it comes to what history says about Alex Rodriguez. History will throw mud on A-Rod from now until he’s dead and buried and then will continue throwing mud on him after that.  It’s all we’ve been conditioned to do since he left Seattle and went to Texas and it only intensified once he got to New York and his mere unpopularity transformed into scandal. And nothing is going to change that. No matter how many people go on television today to tell us otherwise.

[this post was adapted from — with many parts taken from — my August 5, 2013 story on, yes, Alex Rodriguez’s legacy. Alas it’s a topic that keeps coming up over and over]

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.