New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez continues inching his way up the MLB all-time list for runs batted in. With an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night, A-Rod surpassed Barry Bonds for second with 1,997 career RBI, per the Yankees. Rodriguez now trails only Hank Aaron in career RBI.
This moment was inevitable after Rodriguez tied Bonds on May 28 with a sacrifice fly against the Oakland Athletics.
"It means I'm getting old and have been playing for a long time," Rodriguez said, according to YES Network, via SportsCenter.
The 2015 season has already been a statistically significant one for the 39-year-old. Back on May 7, he hit the 661st home run of his career, which moved him ahead of Willie Mays for fourth.
Whereas Rodriguez moving up the home run ladder is a relatively open-and-shut discussion, his pursuit of Bonds with regard to RBI has sparked a larger debate regarding how the league compiles its stats.
The reason for the discrepancy is that the RBI wasn't an officially recognized stat until 1920. As Sporting News' Jesse Spector noted, A-Rod would still have a long way to go to reach Ruth if the pre-1920 stats were considered:
Jesse Spector 📎 @jessespector
The all-time RBI thing gets an asterisk because RBI didn't become official until 1920. @baseball_ref has Ruth at 2,214 to A-Rod's 1,992.5/23/2015, 4:12:06 AM
Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe diligently covered the topic in a May 28 article and argued in conclusion that Baseball-Reference.com had the most complete and accurate RBI list when compared to what else is available:
Long story short: It's (baseball researcher Pete) Palmer's data, historically vetted by expert researchers, that forms the foundation of the statistics at Baseball-Reference.com, which while clearly the greatest invention since the wheel remains unofficial in the eyes of MLB. The B-Ref data includes not only totals that have been adjusted from the "official" ones but also statistics from the first organized professional baseball league, the National Association, which ran from 1871 to '75, and which Elias and MLB do not recognize as a major league. Anson played in the NA from its inception, which is why his numbers for hits, RBIs and other totals differ greatly from what MLB recognizes, as I noted last year while Derek Jeter climbed the all-time hits leaderboard.
Either way, most will agree that Rodriguez has little chance of climbing into first on any list. Aaron is the current leader with 2,297, so A-Rod needs 301 more RBI to move ahead of the Hammer.
It's possible Rodriguez could get there if he plays another three or four years. But between his injury history, age and on-field decline, staying at a pace where he could supplant Aaron is a long shot.