If you simply look at his production at the plate, if you forget his name and overlook his reputation and ignore his rap sheet, if you hum to yourself loudly enough that you forget what you’re doing, it’s possible to realize that Alex Rodriguez is one of the American League’s most amazing stories this season.
Nobody else was so widely expected to be a failure this year, more worthy of pity than honors. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian was one of the more optimistic analysts about A-Rod, figuring he might “run into 10, maybe 15 fastballs” this season — but added, “that doesn’t mean he’s coming back as a good player. Those days are over.”
Not quite. Now a couple weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Rodriguez has been not only one of the two or three best designated hitters in the American League this season, he’s been one of the best hitters, period. Rodriguez entered Saturday ranking seventh in the AL in OPS (on-base plus slugging), sixth in on-base percentage, and he ranks in the top 10 of virtually every advanced statistic — offensive WAR, runs created, offensive winning percentage — that tries to summarize contributions at the plate.
More simply, he leads all designated hitters in home runs (15), runs (44) and walks (43), and he’s third in batting average (.284), extra-base hits (28) and RBI (46). He also passed Willie Mays for fourth on the career home run list in April, and last month became the 29th player to reach 3,000 hits.
It turns out that serving a full-season suspension in 2014 didn’t end his career by making him too rusty to hit effectively again. Instead, it might have allowed his two surgically repaired hips to heal properly and leave him fully healthy for the first time since 2011.
And sure, his achievements are forever tainted by his reliance on performance-enhancing drugs, not to mention his repeated lying about using them. We’ll never know how much of what he accomplished was legit. But he’s served his time, he’s been on his best behavior, and he’s been … well, not forgiven, but at least paroled. Twins fans who welcome back Ervin Santana on Sunday recognize the emotions involved there.
All of which makes this next sentence a little surreal: Alex Rodriguez should be an All-Star.
The All-Star Game is for two types of players, the game’s biggest names and the players who are having the best seasons thus far. And there is no denying that A-Rod, love him or hate him, qualifies as both. Hey, booing is part of the game, too.
The three-time MVP has been an All-Star 14 times, but not since 2011. He was part of one of the game’s most classic moments, when as the starting shortstop, he moved to third base at the 2001 game in Seattle and insisted that Cal Ripken Jr. return to short in his final All-Star Game. Rodriguez made it clear in an ESPN interview last week that “it would be incredibly special” to be an All-Star again, that “I would walk to Cincinnati” to make it happen.
So will he get a chance to be booed in Great American Ball Park? It might be up to the fans.
Rodriguez was fifth among DHs in the All-Star balloting released last week, so he won’t be a starter; that’s almost certainly going to be Seattle’s Nelson Cruz — coincidentally, another player who has served a steroids suspension. Players vote for a backup at each position, but the immensely popular Prince Fielder figures to have an edge over the enormously unpopular A-Rod.
That leaves it up to Ned Yost, who chooses the final seven players with the help of the league office. Hmm, wonder if MLB officials have an opinion about honoring a player who openly attacked them two years ago?
No, the most likely route is for Yost to include Rodriguez on the “Final Vote” ballot, which allows fans to choose the last All-Star. It would be a fitting way to measure whether Rodriguez’s image makeover resonates with the fans. And if not, if his deserving season is ignored, well, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t bring it on himself.
The Royals have been the story of 2015 All-Star voting; they might have as many representatives as the rest of the AL Central combined. A look at who might be picked:
Indians: Second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is third in the AL with a .342 average, has said he believes he has a “zero percent chance” of starting and he is probably right.
But his amazing bounce-back season, which includes 26 doubles, makes him a lock for the team. Beyond that? Outfielder Michael Brantley has an outside shot, and Cy Young winner Corey Kluber will get strong consideration, although his 3-9 record figures to keep him at home.
Royals: No, they won’t have seven starters anymore, and if Omar Infante is somehow elected, it will be the top story/controversy heading into the game. But Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez are all deserving, to varying degrees.
With so many starters, though, how many reserves can manager Ned Yost pick from his own team? Pitchers Wade Davis and Greg Holland, plus third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer all could be headed to Cincinnati, too.
Tigers: Miguel Cabrera’s calf injury could make lefthander David Price Detroit’s lone representative for the AL.
The Tigers haven’t been a one-star team since 2008, though, so J.D. Martinez (22 homers, 55 RBI) or reigning Home Run Derby champion Yeonis Cespedes could give Price company.
White Sox: Chris Sale is not only a deserving All-Star, he is probably one of the favorites to be the starting pitcher for the AL.
And if he’s not, it’s the Twins’ fault; Sale’s ERA vs. them is 6.46, and against everyone else, it’s 1.81. There are no other likely stars for Chicago, though first baseman Jose Abreu and closer David Robertson will be considered.
All-Star home runs are becoming increasingly rare, with only four in the past six years. No active player has more than one career All-Star home run, and for some franchises — like the Twins, whose only All-Star home runs were hit by Harmon Killebrew (three) and Kirby Puckett (one) — it’s been a surprisingly long time since one of their players hit a home run in the Midsummer Classic. Here are the teams that haven’t had an All-Star home run in the 21st century:
Team Last All-Star home run
Dodgers Mike Piazza, 1996
Padres Ken Caminiti, 1996
Marlins Jeff Conine, 1995
Astros Craig Biggio, 1995
Nationals Marquis Grissom (then the Expos), 1994
Blue Jays Roberto Alomar, 1993
Twins Kirby Puckett, 1993
Royals Bo Jackson, 1989
Athletics Terry Steinbach, 1988
Reds Dave Concepcion, 1982
Phillie sMike Schmidt, 1981
Pirates Dave Parker, 1981
Cardinals Reggie Smith, 1974
Diamondbacks Still looking for No. 1