This Yankees press packet has been making the rounds:
Among the many important “milestones” enumerated therein (Didi Gregorious is approaching 200 games!; Stephen Drew is closing on one hundred career jacks!), one obvious benchmark is missing: the fact that Alex Rodriguez is five homers short of tying Willie Mays’ career total of 660.
The Yankees, of course, are contractually obligated to pay Arod a $6 million bonus once he catches the Say Hey Kid on the homerun list. They also, according to his contract, owe him money if he catches Ruth, Aaron and Bonds. The team argues that, because of Arod’s actions, his records are “tainted” and therefore no longer of market value to the Yankees. As such, they are intent on stiffing Arod the money in question.
As many have pointed out since yesterday, it’s odd that, given the homerun omission, other Alex Rodriguez milestones are in the press packet. For example, the packet informs us that Arod is one run short of tying Derek Jeter for ninth place all time. And he’s moving up the Yankees’ career stolen base list – he sits at 145, just behind Bert Daniels (146), and Tony Lazzeri and Bernie Williams (147).
The inclusion of Arod’s runs and stolen bases totals makes nonsense out of the Yanks claim that his tainted homerun record negates their obligation to pay the bonus. Obviously, if his homer totals aren’t valid, neither are any of his other stats. Of course, the Yankees only care about the homers because they stand to lose money. But if the larger argument is that Arod has destroyed the value presumed to have been inherent in his career accomplishments, it’s worth asking whether the Yanks regard as indelibly sullied any of the team achievements of which Arod has been a part, including the franchise’s 27th world championship, won in 2009 thanks in large measure to Alex’s awesome postseason performance that year.
Any attempt to pick and choose which records are valid and which aren’t in the steroid era is going to leave us in an inescapable morass. There is no end to the game of counter-factual history that would need to be played to sort that out. In the current instance, the Yankees’ aren’t standing on any larger principle. They just want to save some money off a contract that is already an albatross around their necks. MLB did the Yanks a favor by suspending Rodriguez without pay for all of 2014, when it’s never been clearly explained why he deserved the harshest PED-related penalty in the sport’s history. Arod is going to pass Mays relatively soon and the Yanks are going to have to pay. They needn’t throw a big party when that happens, since almost no one is going to be celebrating that moment in any event.
But they don’t need to make themselves look this silly tying themselves in knots about when Arod’s achievements should be recognized and when they should be dismissed.