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A Tale of Two City… Home Run Kings (A Guest Post from E.L. Danvers)

by E.L. Danvers

March 18, 2021

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In the history of American sports, Babe Ruth’s legacy has held an almost fable-like air for about 100 years. Many players since have smashed his records and moved past him on the all-time lists. But the aura of the Great Bambino has yet to be eclipsed.

As a baseball fan since (almost) birth, the legend of the Babe seemed irreproachable to me. He was undeniably the greatest player ever, or at least that is what I thought until an age that I’d rather not admit. Let’s just say it was around 2004 when Alex Rodriguez joined the Yankees and the promise of potentially watching the modern day “greatest player ever” was swatted away when A-Rod slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. I knew when I watched that bush league foolishness that the Series was over for the Yankees. A-Rod had disgraced the pinstripes and singlehandedly (pun intended) broke the curse of the Bambino for the Red Sox all by himself. Ok, ok … I exaggerate but I did think about Ruth and how he never would have done such a thing to shame himself or the Yankees organization.

Except he did. And over the years, as Rodriquez’s behavior grew more brash, it was hard not to draw the comparison between him and Ruth and think about how these two New Yorkers are so alike but how history will judge them so differently.

Statistically speaking, Ruth and A-Rod are pretty similar. They both played 22 seasons in the big leagues, Ruth 15 seasons as a Yankee and A-Rod 12. The Babe hit 714 home runs, had a lifetime batting average of .342 with 2,873 hits and 2,214 RBIs in 2,503 games and 10,623 at bats to

Rodriguez’s 696 home runs, .295 career batting average, 3,115 hits and 2,086 RBIs in 2,784 games and 10,566 at bats. Here Are The Comparisons

Both spent most of their Yankee careers residing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Babe lived at the Ansonia and then at three different buildings around 88th Street and Riverside Drive. Rodriguez spent his time in pinstripes on Central Park West and then roughly 25 blocks south of Ruth’s former residences on Riverside Boulevard. https://ilovetheupperwestside.com/baseball-legends-of-the-uws/

But while Ruth was and is heralded as a baseball and American legend, A-Rod faces an almost certain doom as one of the most hated players in the history of the game. Ruth an example of greatness; A-Rod an example of what could’ve been, a chance to be the greatest ever tainted not only by his own mistakes but also by the brutal way he was often treated by his era’s press coverage and social media climate.

As a baseball purist, I believe that the behavior of Ruth and Rodriguez on and off the field disrespected the game and the Yankees organization. But unlike Rodriguez, the Bambino’s reputation barely took a hit in the game overall and tales of the Babe to this day rarely offer a hint of his bad behavior.

Both players were punished by Major League Baseball during their careers. Ruth received a 40-day punishment and lost the total sum of his World Series bonus for barnstorming, a one-day suspension, $200 fine, and loss of his captaincy for confronting a fan in the stands, a three-day suspension for calling an umpire a slur, a two-day suspension for attempting to fight said umpire a day later, and a fourth suspension for arguing with a second umpire. Ruth’s reported “litany of speeding tickets, traffic violations and automobile accidents [were] nearly as prolific as his 714 home runs.” He was even arrested for speeding. The consequences of this arrest? Same day release and a police escort to Yankee Stadium.

A-Rod became one of the most reviled players in MLB history when he signed a record-breaking contract with the Texas Rangers in 2000, a move that was widely derided as nothing but greed with few ever believing that Alex chose the team because of its future potential. When he returned to Seattle and other visiting stadiums during the 2001 season, those in attendance threw fake money at Rodriguez to mock him and show their displeasure for his perceived avarice and greed. Despite posting record numbers with the Rangers, things did not get much better for A-Rod after that.

Though not known until February 2009, Rodriguez was reportedly one of 104 players to test positive for steroids in 2003. His name was the only one that was revealed from the sealed report. Alex would later admit his steroid use, but even coming clean tainted his legacy and his legitimate chance to be one of the greatest players ever.

Rumors of steroid use plagued Rodriguez through the rest of his career, including links to a Canadian doctor who trafficked in performance-enhancing drugs and his ultimate suspension for the entire 2014 season for his part in the Biogenesis scandal. He returned in 2015 and unceremoniously passed MLB royalty Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and collected his 3,000th hit, one of only 32 players to do so (an achievement that even Ruth didn’t notch).

At the end of his career, Ruth … well, he is Babe Ruth, a household name universally recognized and equated with the best of the best. He is a baseball god and will likely always be one of the best-known American sports heroes. Arguably, part of this is because he spent his career setting records while the players since spent their careers chasing his, his antics since excused as a sign of the times. He was a sports celebrity and one of the first of the nation’s kind. As celebrity tends to do, Ruth’s transgressions were and are overlooked. He was forgiven. His legacy remains that of a hero, even if an imperfect one; a slate wiped clean.

Alternatively, A-Rod’s career was cut short by the Yankees in 2016 and, to many Yankee and baseball fans alike, not a moment too soon. The baseball gods seemed to agree and even intervened by literally raining on his last-game ceremony and cutting it short with a thunderous clap that chased him off the field and into player oblivion. The final chapter of A-Rod’s career was one where he was still ruthlessly villainized. It can be argued that this unsparing coverage and critiques perhaps goaded Rodriguez into making stupid, and often dishonorable, decisions (over and over and over) to try to prove that he was the great player that he was once billed to be … to try to prove that he was the greatest ever.

After the playing days of these Upper West Siders ended, Ruth never got to manage a team like he so desperately wanted despite his contemporaneous hero status. Rodriguez is now a respected student of the game and baseball analyst whose sights seemed set on owning a team and his image rehabilitated to some extent, with many crediting the latter, at least in part, to J-Lo . But 100 years after Ruth joined the Yankees, he is regarded as one of the best players ever. In 100 years, he will probably hold the same stature. Will we be talking about A-Rod in 100 years? Probably not. But we could have been.

Sources :

https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-babe-ruth

https://www.sportscasting.com/babe-ruth-received-1-of-the-worst-penalties-in-baseball-history/

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/jan/11/alex-rodriguez-suspended-for-2014-season-arbitrator-rules



https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/sports/baseball/08arod.html &

https://www.si.com/mlb/2009/02/07/alex-rodriguez-steroids

https://nypost.com/2016/08/07/the-complete-a-rod-timeline-in-all-its-power-and-absurdity/

#AlexRodriguez #BabeRuth

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