Would it surprise you to find out that, by at least one measure, Alex Rodriguez is one of the best postseason hitters of his generation?
Because of his reputation for choking, people are often stunned to find out that A-Rod has a career 1.033 OPS in ALCS and World Series play. Almost all of his struggles at the plate have come in the ALDS, which is an important part of the postseason but not normally the place where legends are made.
But Alex Rodriguez is different, as his entire career seems to be defined by struggles that have obscured one of the great careers that baseball has ever seen.
Much like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football before Lucy pulls it away, people always seem to be moving the bar for greatness so it is just out of A-Rod’s reach.
It has been this way for A-Rod almost from the moment he left the Seattle Mariners to sign his infamous $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. While in Texas, A-Rod earned an MVP award, led the league in offensive WAR three straight seasons, and put up some of the best numbers the game had seen from a shortstop since at least Honus Wagner. At the same time, everybody dismissed his greatness due to the Rangers’ inability to put up a quality team around him.
People said it did not matter until he did it in the postseason, completely disregarding his fine playoff runs with Seattle in 1997 and 2000 in the process.
Then in 2004, A-Rod gets traded to New York and experiences something of a letdown during the regular season (.286/.375/.512) but comes up big with an impressive .320/.413/.600 in postseason play.
You read that correctly: A-Rod actually improved on his regular-season totals during the 2004 playoffs.
Of course, everything gets overshadowed by the Yankees’ inability to close out the Red Sox when they had a 3-0 lead in the series, punctuated by A-Rod’s infamous slapping incident in game six. As a result, A-Rod was given the reputation as someone who disappointed in the postseason (in spite of excellent all-around numbers) and was again dismissed as a player who was incapable of winning a ring.
A-Rod did little to change his reputation as a postseason choker over the next three seasons, turning in awful performances in 2005 and 2006 and a mediocre one in 2007 as the Yankees lost in the ALDS in all three seasons. That he was named regular season MVP during two of those years only reinforced his image.
Then in 2009, everything came together. A-Rod did more than just win a World Series ring; he carried the Yankees in the postseason, putting up MVP-type numbers in both the ALDS and ALCS and great frontline totals in the World Series. More importantly, his .365/.500/.808 line was not only better than what he did during the 2009 season, but superior to anything he had ever done in his career.
This should have exorcised every single demon that was casting a shadow over his legacy. A-Rod had won his ring, and he put the Yankees on his back in order to do it.
But only three years later, it’s like everybody has forgotten about A-Rod’s postseason successes and are only bringing up failures. People are now saying he has to do it again in order to be truly validated as an all-time great.
To make matters worse, on Wednesday night Raul Ibanez lined the game-tying homer to right-center field off major league saves leader Jim Johnson while pinch hitting for Rodriguez before blasting a solo 12th inning walk-off dinger to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the AL Division Series.
Once again, the bar for greatness gets moved further and further back because A-Rod is involved.
Seriously... this guy cannot win. Even in a Yankees win, A-Rod loses.