1. 1. His health — and that of his teammates.
Between his already questionable sportsmanship (see here and here, for starters), the accusation that he leaked the names of fellow PED users (including one of his teammates), and his raging, pretty boy narcissism, A-Rod is a walking bulls-eye, especially for pitchers that he may have victimized previously.
Case in point: the scrum last week when Ryan Dempster, a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, plunked A-Rod on the arm. Dempster’s execution was clumsy — he needed 4 pitches to make it happen — but the brushback triggered a bench-clearing brouhaha that could have easily escalated into something more violent. Do the Yankees really want to risk inviting that again every time he steps into the batter’s box? More importantly: do his teammates, who will be compelled by baseball code to protect him? The sport has a long history of players — key contributors and backups alike — coming down with injuries incurred as a result of on-field fracases.
As it was, Rodriguez would get his revenge later in the same game, clubbing a long home run — off Dempster — to center. Which, conveniently enough, is the perfect segue into my next point…
2. 2. The home run chase.
Rodriguez currently sits at 651 career home runs, good enough for 5th all time. 4 of those have come since his return from the injured reserve list, which leaves him just 9 behind Willie Mays, pictured above, for 4th, a total he could reach this season with a modest hot streak. Any production generated under this cloud of suspicion will be immediately suspect and credibility-deficient. Do the Yankees really want to invite and encourage that sort of speculation?
3. 3. Playoff seedings & competitive integrity.
The Yankees currently sit in 4th place in the A.L. East with a record of 70 wins against 63 defeats. The divisional crown might be out of reach — the gap is 8.5 games — but the Wild Card is not and at just 5.5 games back, they are a hot streak away from clawing themselves right back into playoff contention. Every game that Rodriguez plays, he has an impact, be it good or bad, and this is influencing both the race and the sport’s competitive and statistical integrity as a result.
In the game cited above, the one in which he took Dempster deep, A-Rod went 3 for 4, scored 2 runs, and powered a 9-6 Yankee comeback. One could easily challenge the validity of that game.
What’s more, A-Rod, who returned to the active lineup on August 5th after a prolonged absence due to injury, has clearly outperformed his replacements and the team has benefited accordingly. For the season, non-Rodriguez Yankees third basemen have hit at .214 clip with a .256 on-base percentage and .292 slugging percentage in 451 plate appearances. Rodriguez’s numbers thus far over 78 at bats: a .282 batting average, .364 on-base percentage, and .462 slugging percentage, clear improvements all. Further, his home run figure — 4 — is equal to what his replacements totaled for the year, again, a clear improvement. This increased production, in turn, has helped the team on the field: prior to his return, the Yankees were averaging 3.5 runs per game; now it is 5.1 runs per game.
Stats via Newsday.
4. 4. He’s damaging their brand.
The New York Yankees are, by all accounts, one of the premier sports franchises worldwide, with unparalleled name recognition and history. No less an authority than Forbes, for instance, estimates the team’s worth at 1.85 billion dollars, placing it number 3 on the magazine’s list of the World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams. With 27 World Series crowns and 40 American League pennants to the team’s credit, the Yankees have established a peerless reputation for winning tradition, clutch play, and sportsmanship, both on the field and off.
Every day that Alex Rodriguez continues to take the field, he provides an unwelcome counterpoint to that narrative. To wit, this piece in Sports Illustrated, this one here in The Boston Globe, or worse yet, his lawyer’s belligerent showboating, which only invites more unsavory headlines.
Put simply, the suggestion that he’s cheating diminishes what the team stands for, has accomplished, and could accomplish moving forward — and the Yankees are complicit here in exacerbating the issue by penciling him in the line-up on a daily basis. Can you imagine a scenario in which A-Rod rallies the team to playoff berth and championship only to be found guilty in November after the season comes to its completion? Would that World Series title stand or would MLB move to vacate it, as the NCCA has done of late with some college football squads later found to field ineligible players? The damage to the team’s reputation — and that of MLB — would be immeasurable and the outcry among sports fans and the media would be both shill and pronounced.
For this reason, and those outlined above, the Yankees should table Rodriguez for the immediate future. A simple statement to this effect would suffice:
“We value the contributions of Alex Rodriguez and will continue to pay his salary but until the accusations of his PED-use are resolved, he will not take the field out of respect to MLB, its teams, players (both past and present), fans, sponsors, employees, and the competitive integrity of the playoff race.”