Alex Rodriguez: 5 Reasons A-Rod Will Never Be in Lou Gehrig's Class

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJune 13, 2012

Alex Rodriguez: 5 Reasons A-Rod Will Never Be in Lou Gehrig's Class

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    New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez made a bit of history on Tuesday night. He clubbed a key grand slam in the Yankees' 6-4 win over the Atlanta Braves, bringing his career total to 23 grand slams.

    That ties him with Lou Gehrig for the most career grand slams in baseball history.

    A-Rod said this after the game, via The New York Times:

    It means a lot. It’s very special. This game is very, very difficult and if you’re not going to enjoy these great moments, then it’s not any fun. Lou Gehrig was not only one of the all-time greats, but he was one of ours, a Yankee.

    So A-Rod and Gehrig have two things in common: pinstripes and the career grand slam record (at least until A-Rod hits another).

    Great. Wonderful. We now have a couple good reasons to put A-Rod and Gehrig in the same sentence.

    That's fine, but nobody should be too quick to think that A-Rod and Gehrig are equals. They're not. Gehrig was both a better ballplayer and a better person than A-Rod is, and this will always be the case.

    Sounds like a typical A-Rod/Yankee-hater opinion, huh? Of course it does, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

    What follows is my line of reasoning.

    Note: Special thanks to Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs for the key stats.

Reputation

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    Lou Gehrig is one of the most beloved individuals in baseball history, and for good reason. He played the game of baseball very, very well, and he's famous for truly loving to play it.

    He made that much clear in his renowned farewell speech in 1939 when he famously proclaimed himself as "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

    Here's the part of the speech that doesn't get as much play:

    I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. 

    Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky.

    Anyone who reads these words and then goes and looks up Gehrig's stats will realize that Gehrig encompassed all that a ballplayer should be. He was and still is one of the sport's great icons.

    A-Rod is never going to be as beloved as Gehrig was. He is universally despised by baseball fans for his arrogant demeanor, money-grubbing antics and past steroid use. And as the picture above goes to show, fans have never been crazy about A-Rod's high-profile personal life either.

    It's not just the fans who hold a grudge against A-Rod. He is not respected by his peers either. As reported by CBS New York, a recent poll of 100 major league players revealed A-Rod to be the second-most hated player in baseball behind Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

    That's not all. Last year, Sports Illustrated polled players to come up with a list of baseball's most overrated players, and A-Rod checked in at No. 1.

    Even Joe Torre, A-Rod's former manager and one of the most calm, cool and collected men in baseball today, hasn't been shy about ripping his old third baseman.

    So to say A-Rod isn't well-liked is not an opinion. It's a fact.

Durability

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    If you disregard the reputation stuff, A-Rod's career compares much more favorably to Gehrig's. The two players both boast gaudy statistics and achievements.

    However, one of Gehrig's accomplishments puts A-Rod to shame, and that's his consecutive games played streak.

    Between 1925 and 1939, Gehrig played in 2,130 straight games. It started with a pinch-hitting appearance, and it didn't end until after he started to break down due to his battle with ALS in 1939.

    Gehrig wasn't able to play that many games in a row because he was never hurt. On the contrary, he was hurt all the time, and a recent study determined that his bout with ALS could have been triggered by concussions.

    So his consecutive games streak wasn't exactly a walk in the park. It was more like a long stroll through hell.

    To give credit where credit is due, A-Rod was one of baseball's more durable players once upon a time, appearing in 155 or more games seven times in his 19 seasons (and counting). However, he's been injury-prone ever since 2008, when he was just 32 years old at the start of the season. 

    A-Rod wasn't even able to play in 100 games last season due to knee troubles. This past offseason, the New York Post reported that A-Rod had traveled to Germany to have the same procedure done on his knee that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant had done on his own knee.

    Perhaps due to that procedure, A-Rod has been healthy this season. Nonetheless, he still has several years to serve on his current contract, and it would be foolish to think that he's going to remain durable for the rest of it.

Pure Hitting Abilities

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    A-Rod has tied Gehrig's career grand slam mark, and he's already hit 146 more home runs than The Iron Horse did in his career. When all is said and done, A-Rod has a chance to retire as baseball's all-time home run king.

    He may be the better power hitter, but Gehrig was the better all-around hitter. It's not even close.

    A-Rod's career batting average currently sits at .301, and he has a career OBP of .386 and a career slugging percentage of .563. His OPS is .949 and his OPS+ is 144.

    Those are pretty good numbers, but they pale in comparison to Gehrig's career numbers. He hit .340 in his 17-year career, and he compiled an OBP of .447 and a slugging percentage of .632. He retired with a career OPS of 1.080 and a career OPS+ of 179.

    The most telling stat is the weighted on-base average (wOBA) of both players. It's a stat that FanGraphs says is among the "most important and popular catch-all offensive statistics." It measures "offensive value more accurately and comprehensively" than batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, and so on.

    Gehrig's wOBA is .474, third-highest in baseball history. A-Rod's is .406.

    Like I said, not even close.

Postseason Heroics

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    If we were talking about basketball heroes, Lou Gehrig would be Michael Jordan and Alex Rodriguez would be LeBron James.

    A-Rod finally won a ring when he and the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. And indeed, he played a huge part in the Yankees' success that postseason, hitting .365 with a gaudy 1.308 OPS. He hit six home runs and drove in 18 runs in 15 games.

    Despite that 2009 performance, A-Rod's postseason numbers leave a lot to be desired. He's a career .277 hitter in the playoffs, and he has just nine hits in his last 50 postseason at-bats. 

    Gehrig, on the other hand, was money in the postseason—which, of course, consisted of only the World Series back in his day.

    In 34 career World Series games, Gehrig hit .361/.477/.731 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI. He was particularly good in the Yankees' four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928, hitting .545 with an absurd 1.727 OPS. He had four home runs in nine RBI.

    In the end, Gehrig retired with six World Series rings.

    A-Rod's not getting to six. In fact, I'd put good money on him never getting to two.

Gehrig Didn't Cheat

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    There's a reason A-Rod is known as "A-Fraud" and "A-Roid" among baseball fans. He earned those nicknames by using performance-enhancing drugs during his brief career with the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003.

    A-Rod owned up to his PED usage in 2009 in an interview with ESPN.

    "I was young. I was stupid. I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time," he said.

    Sure enough, his PED use helped him prove that exact point. In the three-year stretch A-Rod was using PED's, he averaged 52 home runs and 132 RBI a season, leading the AL in home runs all three seasons and winning the first MVP award of his career in 2003.

    A-Rod's cheating from 2001 to 2003 paid off in a big way, and that's a fact that tarnishes the rest of his career achievements.

    Lou Gehrig didn't cheat. If anything, he was cheated. He was only 36 when he was forced to walk away from baseball due to his illness, meaning he was robbed of at least a couple years of good production.

    Had Gehrig been able to keep playing, he probably would have hit 600 home runs too. And unlike A-Rod, he would have done it the right way.

     

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