As the only active player to make his debut before the 1994 strike, the career of Alex Rodriguez has spanned a generation in baseball. Rodriguez has been a major league ballplayer for over 21 years, the hyped first overall pick who broke through as a teenager-Bryce Harper before Bryce Harper. He offered MVP-level numbers and elite defense as the Mike Trout before Mike Trout. It has been an incredibly unique path of ups-and-downs for Rodriguez over the last two decades, but in terms of actual performance, he has given us 15 magical years between 1996 and 2010-a prime longer than many full careers.
It seemed that the decline starting with the 2011 season, for a player under contract until 2017, would be long and painful. Coming back from three below-par seasons and a fourth missed completely due to suspension, it was difficult to predict how Rodriguez would rebound in 2015, even as it was difficult to predict how the Yankees themselves would rebound from two straight seasons without postseason baseball. As it has played out, Rodriguez is having a season no projection system could have predicted, putting him in the heart of a rejuvenated batting lineup that has carried the Yankees into first place. There has been no greater demonstration of this than yesterday night; a three home run performance carried the Yankees back to victory against the Twins after trailing by five runs, a game that might have seemed all-but-lost if the team still featured a lineup from the 2013 or 2014 vintages.
Perhaps it might have been easier to predict that Rodriguez would have the occasional incredible game this year, or even that he would still turn on the mistake pitches and send them into the seats for a strong home run tally if nothing else. The truly amazing component of his revival, though has been the consistency, the return to being a true all-around force batting third in the lineup. The longest-tenured player in baseball is having the ninth best offensive season, at 151 wRC+, just ahead of middle order partner Mark Teixeira. Rodriguez is one of the absolute best hitters out there today, a day away from turning 40, and perhaps just as impressively has managed to stay healthy as younger elite sluggers like Miguel Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton have missed time.
We are still only halfway through 2015, of course, but Rodriguez is on his way to turning in his best season since 2008, the Yankees are getting one more prime year out of him than they perhaps thought they could expect. It would seem that the year of rest and now half-season at designated hitter have allowed Rodriguez to remain healthy enough to turn in one of the greatest age-39 seasons in history. The third best, in fact, by wRC+, only Barry Bonds and Ted Williams were better at the same age. The only player who was better than this in his age-40 season was Willie Mays, which makes that an interesting target for the second half of the year for Rodriguez, having already passed Mays on the career home run list earlier this season.
Any time a player is in conversation with Bonds, Williams, and Mays, he is having a special season, but then perhaps this should be unexpected for Alex Rodriguez. He had a world to overcome to get anywhere near this point, but this is one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Now we get to watch the last years of a special career, and it appears as though they might be more positive than most of us could have imagined.
Plus, a few more days like yesterday and the Rodriguez milestone watch can return in full force. Now 23 home runs on the year, and 23 home runs from the 700 mark. Should Rodriguez remain healthy for the remainder of his contract, perhaps the Babe Ruth marker at 714 is not out of reach after all.