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Should Alex Rodriguez be in the Mariners Hall of Fame?

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In a word: duh

Sports Contributor Archive 2019 Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Breakups are hard. Whether life’s natural progression causes you to drift apart, some action catalyzes a split, or a rich Texas businessman offers them $252 million and they leave town immediately, there’s no recipe for getting over traumatic heartbreak.

When the heartbreaker is a tall, dark, and handsome lothario who you essentially grew up with, uncoupling your life with theirs is all the more difficult. They didn’t have to seek out a new job that ensures you’d still see them 12-15 times a year, though.

This is what Alex Rodriguez did to the Mariners 20 years ago. Coming off a preposterous five-year run in which he put up 38.7 bWAR – including three seasons at 8.5 or better – Rodriguez left a burgeoning World Series contender to sign with the last-place team in their division. That was not a popular move.

Still, the details of the breakup shouldn’t completely cloud the high marks of the relationship. At the time of his departure, A-Rod was part of literally every single playoff team the Mariners ever had. While his most useful skill in 1995 was a nose for the camera, Rodriguez hit .313, .308, and .409 in the Mariners’ three postseason series in 1997 and 2000, helping them sweep one of them.

While playing for Seattle, he became just the third person in the history of Major League Baseball to steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in the same season. He became the first American League shortstop to hit 40 dingers in three straight years. In 1996, he broke Edgar’s team record for highest batting average in a single season, hitting .358 at the cool age of 20 years old.

To this day, he’s still one of just six shortstops ever to have a 10 bWAR season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, Lou Boudreau, and Ernie Banks. He still has more records than the KGB, owning the Mariner single-season crowns for doubles (54), bWAR (10.4), and runs (141). Those weren’t even all in the same season either.

Alex Rodriguez was so, so, so good at playing baseball for the Seattle Mariners. The circumstances of his exit are messy at best and selfishly vindictive at worst, but for the five seasons when he was the M’s starting shortstop, there wasn’t a better player in the game.

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference

His admitted steroid usage that will likely keep him out of the National Hall of Fame came after he left Seattle, so I’m going to throw that out for the sake of his Mariner Hall of Fame argument. Looking just at his on-field credentials, it is a no-brainer to include him. We’ll still go through all of his eye-popping Seattle statistics, but the argument for including A-Rod in the Mariners Hall of Fame really just comes down to how much he hurt your feelings.

Alex Rodriguez (1994-2000)

Seasons w/ SEA PA AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI wRC+ bWAR fWAR
Seasons w/ SEA PA AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI wRC+ bWAR fWAR
7 3,515 .309 .374 .561 .934 189 595 137 38.1 35.0

If a shortstop had a .934 OPS and 137 wRC+ in the ‘50s or ‘60s, they’d be tried as a witch. They’d also ask, “What is OPS and wRC+?”, but that’s neither here nor there.

Alex Rodriguez in Seattle was The Beatles in Liverpool, Rihanna in Barbados, Outkast at Lenox Square. To watch him was to understand that he was going to change everything, even if the scope of that change could not yet be understood. As modern test tube shortstops like Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Trevor Story glide around the infield and regularly commit baseball-icide at the plate, it’s easy to forget that shortstops didn’t always look like that. At 6’3” and roughly 200 pounds, A-Rod shattered the traditional idea of a middle infielder. With Ripken as his blueprint, Rodriguez assumed the role of MLB’s new wave shortstop and rode it through some of the best seasons anyone has ever had.

The combined numbers from 1994-2000 are staggering on their own, but the room really starts spinning when you break it down by year. His lowest home run total as a full-time starter (23 in 1997), also came with a .300 batting average and .350 on-base percentage. His lowest batting average (.285 in 1999) was supported by a casual 42 home runs, 111 RBI, and .586 slugging percentage. That makes no mention of the 25 stolen bases he averaged from ’96-2000, either. It’s hard to describe his production during that time without spinning some tired cliché, but there’s also no way to say it besides plainly.

He was doing things no one at his position ever had.

Alex Rodriguez

Think about it like this. From 1996-2000, A-Rod hit 184 homers, stole 126 bags, and accumulated 38.7 bWAR. Only six other shortstops in the entire history of Major League Baseball (Yount, Derek Jeter, Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin, Toby Harrah, and Jimmy Rollins) have done that in an entire career. Rodriguez did it in his age 20-24 seasons. Mercy.

Rodriguez vs. Current Hall of Fame Position Players

Player Seasons w/ SEA PA AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI wRC+ bWAR fWAR
Player Seasons w/ SEA PA AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI wRC+ bWAR fWAR
Alvin Davis 8 4,892 .281 .381 .453 .834 160 667 126 20.1 21.2
Jay Buhner 14 5,828 .255 .360 .497 .857 307 951 124 23.0 22.4
Edgar Martinez 18 8,674 .312 .418 .515 .933 309 1,261 147 68.4 65.5
Dan Wilson 12 4,500 .262 .309 .382 .691 88 519 80 13.5 14.2
Ken Griffey Jr. 13 7,250 .292 .374 .553 .927 417 1,216 139 70.5 67.6
Alex Rodriguez 7 3,515 .309 .374 .561 .934 189 595 137 38.1 35.0

Alex Rodriguez had more Wins Above Replacement in seven years with the Mariners than Jay Buhner had in 14.

Alex Rodriguez had more home runs and RBI in seven years than Dan Wilson had in 12. He also had 966 hits, falling about a buck short of Wilson’s 1,071.

Alex Rodriguez produced more value in his first three seasons as a starter than Alvin Davis did in his entire Mariner tenure.

Seattle Mariners’ Edgar Martinez(C) grimaces after Photo credit should read DAN LEVINE/AFP via Getty Images

When we talk about greatest hitters in Mariner history, Edgar and Griffey are obviously, deservedly, in a class of their own. But A-Rod is right there too, and the only thing that stopped him from joining that class were the devilish impulses of capitalism.

Rodriguez’s Ranks in Mariner History

Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
AVG .309 3rd
OBP .374 T-6th
SLG .561 1st
OPS .934 1st
HR 189 5th
RBI 595 8th
wRC+ 137 4th

This is where his case is signed, sealed, and delivered for me. Blessed with unfathomable talent at a confounding age, it’s no surprise to see him at or near the top of the list for rate stats. But to be fifth in homers for an entire franchise, despite not playing a single game for them after his 26th birthday, is god-level stuff. So is being third in career batting average, trailing only Ichiro and Edgar Martinez, who I don’t think it’s crazy to say are among the ten best pure hitters to ever inhabit this earthly plane.

Beyond the Numbers

Focusing just on what he did on the field, the only – and I mean only – knock on Rodriguez’s romp with the Mariners is that he never got the team to the World Series. While the 2001 Diamondbacks would have been a formidable opponent, I think the Mariners easily neuter the 2000 Mets in a hypothetical showdown, which makes their failure to get there a bit harder to stomach.

The Mariners’ 2000 ALCS matchup with the Yankees turned against them in Game 4. New York started Roger Clemens, who is maybe the best pitcher to ever do it. The M’s countered with Paul Abbott, who is maybe a nice guy to have a beer with. Clemens famously struck out 15 hitters in a complete game, one-hit shutout, giving the Yanks a 3-1 series lead and effectively putting the Mariners to bed.

Alex Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners stands in f Photo credit should read DAN LEVINE/AFP via Getty Images

The Mariners were fairly overmatched in every aspect of the game, so it’s hard to pinpoint one specific reason why they couldn’t get over the Yankee-sized hump that year. You definitely can’t put the blame on Rodriguez, though.

He went 9-for-22 in the six-game set with two bombs, including one that would have landed in Queens had that stupid foul pole not been in the way.

Like Freddy García easing the pitching staff into a new stadium without Randy Johnson around, A-Rod rose up to quell the uncertainty on offense and patch up a Griffey-sized hole. The Mariners were certainly not maladaptive to this new era. They just didn’t want to send a ferry of money to one player, which is frustrating, but not totally unforgivable at the time.

When looking for any sort of middle ground between narrative-based arguments and numbers-based ones, awards are typically a pretty good place to start. A few accolades on top make a season much easier to remember, particularly if it’s the big one. This makes Rodriguez’s vicious deprival of the 1996 and 1998 MVP awards majorly upsetting. A pair of MVP’s would not only further his candidacy for the club’s Hall of Fame, but they’d also provide a much greater context for how singularly spectacular he was during his ascent toward a legendary career.

I think it’s very cool that the ascent happened for the Seattle Mariners.

Should He Be In?

If someone offered you $252 million to do anything, you’d say yes. If someone offered you $252 million to play baseball you’d say double yes. Grow up.