One of the most enjoyable activities for any baseball fan is to open up Baseball-Reference.com, go to the seasonal and lifetime numbers of any great player and just gawk at the bold and gold. The former means they led the league that year, the latter signifies an all-time record. Barry Bonds is a great start. (See: home runs, intentional walks, on-base percentage.) Rickey Henderson is another classic (steals, runs). Sandy Koufax (who threw how many innings?) will make your head dizzy.
The other thing to scope out is any career number in italics, which indicates that number as the active leader, which brings us, as all things eventually do, to Alex Rodriguez. He is, among all players still in uniform, the leader in just about every offensive category: runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, walks, total bases and even hit-by-pitches. (C’mon, who hasn’t wanted to throw a ball at Rodriguez at some point?)
But what makes Rodriguez so impressive is that he’s still adding to these numbers, even at his age, even after sitting out an entire season-long suspension, even as his persona non grata status in New York morphed from obvious to over-the-top. Through 77 games, he’s got a 2.2 Wins Above Replacement, on page for his highest number since 2008. His OPS+ of 148 – which means his offense is roughly 48 percent better than league average – would also be his best since that year. His 16 home runs and .390 on-base percentage have helped pace the Yankees’ offense since Opening Day, and his batting average on balls in play this season (.318) is exactly in line with his lifetime number, so don’t expect much regression in the second half, even if he’s turning 40 later this month.
But alas, Alex Rodriguez got snubbed by the All-Star selection process, first by the fans (who pick the starters), then by American League manager Ned Yost and the players (who pick the reserves). He didn’t even make the Final Five, of which one player (voted by the fans) will get the final spot. It’s not unthinkable that Rodriguez might’ve won that vote, which shows what a remarkable turnaround he’s engineered in just three months. A-Rod may still be named as a replacement for an injured All-Star who can’t play, but as of now he’s been shunned out of Cincinnati, a city that has, as part of the All-Star Game run-up, continued embracing someone who gambled on baseball games as both a player and manager and then lied about it for decades.
The All-Star Game itself has become a muddled mess. Baseball wants to keep this air of excitement afloat but remains steadfast in pegging home-field advantage in the World Series to the game’s result. The problem is that you can’t have those fun, spontaneous moments when you connect something so important to a result that was made to stay arbitrary. You sure won’t see any more Larry Walker moments, like in 1997. And you can’t count on a Prince Fielder bellyflop triple every time out.
Even more, leaving Rodriguez off the roster looks even odder considering all the weirdo voting that took place in the weeks leading up to now. At one point, eight Kansas City starters were slated to be voted in as starters. That number eventually was halved, but MLB’s voting process still comes out looking like a joke. At one point, MLB announced that some 65 million votes had to be trashed because of the potential for shenanigans. Making the All-Star Game mean something to fans doesn’t hinge on home-field advantage in the playoffs. It depends on making sure that players who are doing well and that fans want to see play make the game. That’s Clayton Kershaw. That’s Joey Votto. And that’s Alex Rodriguez. If the fan voting can’t reliably handle that duty, the fans needn’t be the ones to decide.
Adding Rodriguez to the roster would add an air of uncertainty and controversy to the broadcast, which you know Fox will gladly accept. People love or hate Rodriguez; there is precious little middle ground concerning this man. Expectations for him were subfloor-low heading into 2015, and he’s exceeded them with the kind of athletic ease that once made him one of the game’s true giants. Every at-bat, even just one, would become a must-see television event. Even the haters would watch. For a moment, the All-Star Game would resonate as it hasn’t in years, with baseball’s biggest comeback story complete.
In Cincinnati, they like to contend that Pete Rose has served his time. Alex Rodriguez certainly did, and now he has one last legit shot at an All-Star Game nod. Baseball would be criminal to deny him of that.