Sunday, July 26, 2015

The ARod Hall Of Fame Debate Is Over

Alex arrives for spring training.
By Barry Millman

I'm going to start this story by saying this article isn't entirely about Alex Rodriguez. Or me. It's about common sense versus conventional wisdom. And since I've had a crash course tangling with both this season, I thought I'd share a crazy thought  I had watching Alex Rodriguez -- who turns 40 in a few hours -- round the bases three times for his 21st, 22nd and 23rd home runs in a season that  began with almost unanimous skepticism and derision aimed at him from the media, fans and even his own team's front office. 

I've been on a bit of a roll myself this year when it comes to foreseeing and writing about certain issues regarding Alex and the Yankees.  And  like Alex, when I first broached them I was regarded mostly with either amusement or dismissive scorn by a great many fellow fans and baseball-writing colleagues.

Among my crazier early-bird notions: 

that Alex Rodriguez would have the monster season he's having

that the team had the personnel and a path to win their division;

that C.C. Sabathia wasn't likely to improve or help the team by remaining in the rotation

and that Adam Warren's promising new career as a starter would be Joba-Ruled into limbo. 

Each one was by and large discarded like blasphemous nonsense when I wrote them, Yet each one now is part of the general Yankees conversation. 

Carl Jung once said the pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not right and wrong; so I suspect my run of making sense is due for a swing back in the other direction any time now. But while I'm still in the zone, I'm going to take aim for the outfield fence like Alex and swing hard one more time with another prediction sure to annoy the heck out of someone.

I've already written stories documenting how unprecedented Alex's season is -- how unprecedented his whole career has been really -- and how every single swing of his bat now is history-making and how, Love him  or hate him, none of us are likely to ever see a player of his stature play the game again. To watch him chase, match and surpass an ever-dwindling circle of all-time great players who have achieved what he's achieved is an experience every baseball fan should cherish. And this year he's doing it clean under what has got to be  the most rigorous urine-testing regimen and media scrutiny in the game's history; successfully navigating potential PR dungeons and dragons like the milestone bonus and 3K ball flaps with such aplomp and displaying such joie de vivre  that he's actually gone from pariah to sympathetic figure to -- dare I say it -- respected future Hall of Famer in the eyes of many.

Yeah, I said it. I think he's going to go in eventually. But that's not the annoying prediction I promised up top. Everyone who knows me knows my stand on Alex and on PEDs in general. Yes, PEDs are by and large bad for you and rightly restricted and yes, he did them. got caught and was punished -- more harshly than anyone inin the game's  history.

But also, yes, PEDs have always been part of the game from its earliest days and, yes, the commissioner who prosecuted his case with such zeal was formerly responsible for encouraging their use with an equal zeal to the point that he created a special  award for players he knew used them for revitalizing attendance and interest in the game in the wake of the baseball strike. And yes, there are pill-popping speeders, testosterone-tasters, intentional-spikers, admitted spitballers, white supremacist goons who barred certain players from the field (a list that includes players, owners and a commissioner) and cheaters of almost every other ilk already in the Hall.

And yes, times change -- and watching Alex round the bases tonight again and again and again,  I smugly thought about about how often I've outsmarted the conventional wisdom this year and why that was; and how often conventional wisdom got it wrong over the course of the game's history. And as Alex crossed the plate each time, the answer struck me between the eyes like one of his dingers flush off his bat.

Conventional wisdom must be one heck of a stupid sun of a beach, I surmised.  The only quality necessary to outsmart conventional wisdom, in my humble opinion, is to simply set it aside and ignore it for a couple of minutes while considering any particular issue, In my case, struggling to write something graceful and intelligent about baseball after a long day of work followed by another three to four  hours watching ballgames in a sleep-deprived state all year; forgetting popular explanations and notions is the easy part for me. The only times I've ever looked smart, I realized, is is when I'm either too tired or too lazy to recall which way the winds of conventional wisdom blow on any particular issue. 

I'm exhausted out of my mind right now, so I'm guessing what I'm about to write next is going to sound just as ridiculous as anything I've written before that sounded ridiculous at first until it didn't. 

I think Alex's 2015 season will change more than the perception of just his own career. I think it will accelerate a re-examination of an entire era in baseball. And here's why:

Conventional wisdom always needs an alibi to cover itself when it's wrong or to explain the unexplainable, and needing one, its search will lead it first to its own conventional sources for answers. Fortunately, when it does it will find stories written by Joe Posnanski, David Schoenfield, Eric Walker and other respected analysts who have in recent years bravely posited that there may be many, many far more logical reasons for the upsurge in new home run records during the so-called Steroid Era than simply a sudden mass Jonestown-like Kool-Aid binge of roid ingestion across MLB's locker rooms -- and that the fuzzy science and numbers that were used to construct the myth of a steroid superslugger were later swung like a scythe to cut down the reputations of a generation of great hitters needlessly. 

And at the end of that re-examination, I believe Alex, Barry, Roger and some others who were obviously elite all-time great players and considered dead as far as Cooperstown was concerned will be inducted. 

That's it. That's my annoying prediction. It will probably take a few years to reach a critical mass where it becomes a part of the general baseball conversation and conventional wisdom , but I think Alex will be the tipping point of a conversation that is already being raised by serious analysts and writers far smarter and well-rested than me.

Compared to the rogue's gallery of cheaters and scoundrels already in the Hall of Fame, Alex is a choir boy. The sole extant argument against his induction  has been that nobody could say with any certainty if his stats were a product of PEDs or not. 

If his career were to suddenly come to a tragic halt today, this season has already handily shredded that final flimsy argument into confetti. Alex Rodriguez, like all great hitters, has proven he is a force of nature. A natural. It's now a matter of common sense, not opinion. 

To anyone still clinging to the conventional wisdom it isn't, it's time to take off your funny hat, pack your bag and call a cab for a ride to the airport. The convention's over.

Members of the writers' club that decides who gets into the Hall -- a club that has nudged, winked, overlooked and been on the wrong side of history so many times before -- will only imperil their own reputation in history's eyes by submitting a ballot excluding him, and their gesture will ultimately be in vain. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.