We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.
On August 12, 2016, Alex Rodriguez played his final major league baseball game.
It was certainly treated like his final game, with fanfare and farewells and all of that stuff. But technically speaking Rodriguez did not retire. The Yankees released him, agreeing to bring him back next spring as an advisor of some sort in a way which will allow him to depart baseball on friendly terms with a chance to work in the game in the future as opposed to being shut out in the cold like a lot of infamous and once-infamous players have been. A-Rod is still being paid his player salary in 2017 and could, if he wanted to, sign with any big league team for the minimum salary. He probably won’t, for reasons I argued at length here, but he could.
Let’s assume, though, that he won’t. If he doesn’t, we saw one of baseball’s strangest careers end last August. One of its best too, but one which will be more notable for its strangeness. Its controversy. And its drama. Indeed, due to all of the controversy and drama of the latter part of his career, A-Rod’s baseball accomplishments were often overlooked. It seems crazy to overlook such amazing accomplishments, though, so let’s take a brief refresher, shall we?
For a decade Alex Rodriguez was the best shortstop alive, full stop, and one of the two or three best shortstops to ever live. For close to another decade he continued to be one of the best hitters alive and one of the best all-around players to have ever lived despite moving to a different position. We could measure this a hundred different ways — I’ll leave it to the number crunchers to properly contextualize it all — but I would hope it would not take number crunchers to convince you that an infielder with nearly 700 homers, over 2,000 RBI, a .930 career OPS, over 300 stolen bases, three MVP awards, 14 All-Star appearances, the most career grand slams of anyone ever and a 2009 playoff performance in which he took the most storied franchise in baseball history, placed it on his back and carried the a World Series title was one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
We cannot, of course, ignore the controversy. He used PEDs. He admitted he did. This does not negate his accomplishments — if some HGH could turn a nobody into a superstar we’d have nothing but superstars — but it has certainly tainted them in the minds of most, and his numbers likely will never be taken at face value. Understandably so.
There was also his behavior separate and apart from the PED stuff. Until the final year or two of his career A-Rod was one of the least-self-aware superstars baseball has ever seen and he was constantly finding himself in controversies that could’ve been easily avoided. PR missteps. That media offensive and legal gambit he took immediately following his suspension in 2013. It was hard to love or identify with A-Rod in the best of circumstances, but he did absolutely nothing to give fans, the press or his peers a way in for the vast majority of his career, all of which gave him less of a margin for error when it came to legacy creation than players with half of his talent or accomplishments.
Despite all of that, it’s disingenuous to claim that A-Rod was not an all-time great. Even if you think his numbers were inflated by PEDs, he was among the most talented baseball players of our lifetime. Baseball was better for him having played it, not worse. Baseball was far more entertaining with him than it would’ve been had he not played. He was a great and baseball was better despite his perfidies and shortcomings. He was an all-time great whether you liked him or whether you didn’t.