Unfortunately, when we think back on the career of Alex Rodriguez, the best hitting shortstop of our generation, we will remember him as we do now—as a disgraced player facing a historic suspension (via the Daily News)—and not as one of the most prodigious hitting players at any position, the imposing slugger who reached 500 home runs at age 32 and was a legitimate threat to surpass Barry Bonds' total of 762 home runs.
Ironically, the fans wanted A-Rod to reach the mark because we didn't want the record to be tainted anymore.
We won't remember him as the young 19-year-old who burst onto the scene in the mid-'90s, a player with the flash and legitimate skills, both at the plate and in the field, that made us believe that he was better than the other guy on this Sports Illustrated cover. And this one. Remember him?
When these three shortstops were coming up, it felt like a new era. Then Nomar Garciaparra started to get bit with the injury bug, and A-Rod went from Texas to the Big Apple to team up with Derek Jeter.
Sure, A-Rod had a few excellent seasons in New York. In 2005, he hit 48 homers and drove in 130 runs, and in 2007 he did even better. He hit an outrageous 54 home runs, 146 RBI and also scored 143 runs. Still, he never seemed entirely in place in New York.
Now we know why.
It truly is a shame that Rodriguez won't go down as the most gifted shortstop of all time, a player whose prime was as good as any hitter who's ever played professional baseball. The scary thing is that the 6'3" Rodriguez had the range and glove to nearly match his bat. He won two Gold Gloves in Texas during his final two seasons at the shortstop position. If his career hadn't overlapped with that of Cleveland's Omar Vizquel, he likely would have won a few in Seattle.
But we'll remember Vizquel and Garciaparra more fondly than we will A-Rod. Combined, these guys hit just 309 homers, fewer than half the amount that the once great Alex Rodriguez whacked.
At least those two were honest about it.
Maybe someday, in a more progressive time, we may see a Hall of Fame plaque for the Rodriguez from 1996-2001. Then again, maybe we were being fooled the whole time. And that is the crime and the sad truth of Alex Rodriguez: we will never again be truly sure of what we ever saw.