Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: What to make of Alex Rodriguez’s strong season

The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez high-fives third base coach Joe Espada after a solo home run in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.
The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez high-fives third base coach Joe Espada after a solo home run in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday. TNS

There’s an elephant in the room and he wears No. 13 for the New York Yankees.

He is one of the most-detested players in baseball, a 40-year-old has-been (we thought) the Yankees would have locked out of spring training this season if they didn’t owe him so much money.

He missed all of the 2014 after being suspended for 162 games because of his alleged involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, a penalty that originally consisted of 211 games. He played in only 44 games in 2013.

The thinking was that Alex Rodriguez – aka “A-Rod” – would be more of a distraction in 2015 than a performer. He was washed up, we believed, because of his age and past indiscretion with performance-enhancing chemicals. There was actual sympathy for the hated Yankees, believe it or not, because they were forced to carry this high-paid albatross around their neck.

I was anti-Alex. You were probably anti-Alex. We piled on because A-Rod had cheated the game and made just more than $378 million while doing so.

We looked forward, with glee, at the prospect of Rodriguez swinging what would amount to a rolled-up newspaper at the plate this season. He would be lucky to bat .200. If he hit a home-run, we believed, men in white coats should greet him at home plate with a syringe to check him out.

If Rodriguez was going to play – and his contract with the Yankees that runs through the 2017 season is the only reason he’s playing this season – at least we would get to see him struggle.

Well, A-Rod isn’t struggling. He’s prospering. He’s been a middle-of-the-order run producer for the Yankees with 32 homers, 83 RBIs and an .866 OPS. Rodriguez doesn’t play in the field anymore, but his bat is volatile.

Alex Rodriguez is getting the last laugh and it pains me to say so.

The Yankees are three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East and 2.5 games ahead of Houston for the AL’s first wild-card slot. They lead Minnesota, also chasing a wild-card, by four games.

Rodriguez had a terrible August, batting just .153 with five extra-base hits. Finally, we thought, A-Rod was finished and we would not have to see him again.

But in 13 September games, Rodriguez has six homers, 12 RBIs and a .994 OPS. He’s swinging it again.

We anti A-Rod folks watched in horror this season as Rodriguez topped 3,000 hits and passed Willie Mays amongst the game’s all-time home-run hitters. He’s currently sitting at 686 homers, set to soon join Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron and that other cheater, Barry Bones, as the only players in MLB history with 700 or more homers.

Rodriguez has played in 133 games in 2015 and headed for his most games since 2007.

Rodriguez’s OPS is his highest since 2009 and he’s already hit more home runs than in any season since 2008.

A-Rod isn’t what he was in his prime, when many believe he was boosted by enhancers. But he’s been much more for the Yankees in 2015 than anyone could have imagined.

He’s part of a strong lineup that includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius and, until recently, Mark Teixeira, who is out for the season with an injury. And he’s fit in well.

When I watch the Yankees, A-Rod’s teammates seem to like the guy. That bothers me because I don’t like the guy. I’m petty that way.

Then again, I’m basing my dislike on a strong belief that the A-Rod legacy cannot be trusted.

But his numbers this season can be trusted, right? Baseball has a stringent, strongly-enforced policy against performance-enhancing drugs. Offense has been declining for several seasons and pitchers are dominant.

Yet Rodriguez has risen from the ashes. Or from a vile, which may be a more appropriate description of his renaissance.

Reluctantly, people are giving him his due. I fall into that category, for sure. I never thought Rodriguez would have this kind of season and it must feel really good to be able to look at his skeptics with such robust offensive numbers backing him.

I still don’t care for A-Rod. I still think much of his career is a fraud. I still don’t think he should be in the Hall of Fame. If the Yankees get to the playoffs, I hope he stinks it up.

But give the guy credit – he’s had a heck of a year.