Monday, August 8, 2016

Three tangents on A-Rod

I wrote either too much or not enough about Alex Rodriguez for the Monday print column. If you want more on the subject from me, you're in luck; if not, well, it's my blog and you can't stop me.


Few teams have boasted the top-level talent of the Seattle Mariners in the 1990s. Ken Griffey Jr. was a Gold Glove center fielder who hit more than 600 homers. Alex Rodriguez was a Gold Glove shortstop who hit more than 600 homers. Randy Johnson, left-handed pitcher, won more than 300 games and struck out almost 5,000 hitters. There's a decent argument to be made for each as the greatest player ever at their position. (I'll even accept it for Johnson).

And backing them up were some other pretty darn good players. Edgar Martinez has a legit Cooperstown case. Jamie Moyer won 270 games himself. Jay Buhner was a quality right fielder. Dan Wilson (former Gopher) was a solid receiver.

And what did the M's accomplish with this terrific talent? Not much.

They had the misfortune to be in the same league as the Derek Jeter dynasty Yankees, a team that was deeper than the M's and not much behind them in front-line talent. Griffey and Johnson forced trades as they neared free agency, and Rodriguez fled for bigger money as soon as he could. And after those three were gone, the Mariners had their best season, when the rookie Ichiro Suzuki arrived from Japan and the M's won 116 games -- and got beat by the Yanks in the playoffs.

Twins fans beef about Ron Gardenhire's inability to navigate his team past the Yanks in the postseason in the 2000s, and to be sure, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana were a pretty salty trio on which to base a roster. But Gardy's Twins were not more disappointing than Lou Piniella's Mariners.


Somebody dubbed them "the Trinity" -- three glorious shortstops who hit the American League pretty much simultaneously in the mid 1990s. A-Rod. Jeter. Nomar Garciaparra. Miguel Tejada broke in about the same time too, but without the hype and expectations. Sprinkle in the veteran Omar Vizquel, and the American League had five Cooperstown-level shortstops jostling each other for All-Star berths for about a decade.

My guess is that at most three of those five will actually get into the Hall, and maybe only one. Jeter, obviously. Vizquel, the least of the five as a hitter, has a chance to be seen by the electorate as the equivalent of the enshrined Luis Aparicio. Rodriguez and Tejada have the steroid taint on their resumes, and they will need a more forgiving electorate (which may be coming) to get in. And Garciaparras body started to betray him in his late 20s; he was finished as a regular in his mid 30s.

We have a somewhat similar wave of shortstop talent hitting the majors today: Xander Bogearts, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Corey Seager. Appreciate them. From my perch today, it seems so recent that A-Rod and Jeter had their futures ahead of them.


World War II ended in 1945. From that time until 1974, when Robin Yount debuted, only two shortstops destined for Cooperstown broke in: Ernie Banks and Aparicio. That's almost 30 years.

Draw up a list of the all-time great shortstops, and you might be startled at the recentness of the list.

It starts, of course, with somebody whose peak was more than a century ago: Honus Wagner. But for my tastes -- and your opinion may differ -- most of the rest of the top 10 are guys I saw play: Jeter and A-Rod, Yount and Cal Ripken, Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell and Ozzie Smith. (Trammell's not in the Hall, but he ought to be.) You can line them up however you want and sprinkle in the likes of Joe Cronin, Banks, Arky Vaughn and Luke Appling as you prefer, but those seven are there.

I've listed 13 "shortstops" in this segment. But Yount spent almost half his career in the outfield, Banks actually played more games at first base than at short and Rodriguez, as noted in the print column, has almost as many games at third base as at shortstop. Ripken ended his career at third; Wagner, oddly, didn't become a regular shortstop until he was 29. The top-flight guys who actually spent their careers at shortstop are pretty darn rare.

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