This weekend, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte became the 20th and 21st players to have their uniform numbers retired by the New York Yankees. At some point next year when the team feels it needs a sell-out, Derek Jeter will become the 22nd entrant to that moderately exclusive group. That will leave the Yankees with twice as many retired jerseys as any other team in baseball and a question on where to go next once all the arguably deserving members of their 90's dynasty clubs have been honored.
The answer to that starts and ends with Alex Rodriguez, as Newsday's Steven Marcus touched on last week. There's really no numbers-based argument you can make against him, and that's not just by the low-lingering Reggie Jackson standard that sets the tenure requirement for a place in Monument Park at just five years. If he makes it to the end of his contract in 2017, A-Rod will have thirteen active Yankee seasons under his belt, which would top or tie eight of the retired number club's current members. At present his 52.0 fWAR ranks eighth on the all-time Yankee list for position players, besting more than half of those already in as hitters. His 335 home runs are sixth and he's a good bet to pass Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio before he's done, and his 1,048 RBI are 12th with a bullet aimed at the top ten. The two MVP awards A-Rod has won in pinstripes are as many as anyone not named Mantle, Berra or DiMaggio, and while some view his sole World Series ring as a disappointment, it's one more than Don Mattingly has, and only one less than Maris, Munson, Jackson and Guidry, a deficit which will hopefully be corrected before he's gone.
Of course, retiring numbers is about as arbitrary a thing as there is in sports and it's not just about the numbers. That's why Jackson's there for hitting three home runs in a World Series game and Maris is there for hitting 61 in a season, while players with longer and more valuable Yankee careers like Willie Randolph and Tony Lazzeri aren't. A-Rod hasn't always been a model employee. Suing team doctors isn't a great way to score points with management. Even with his approval rating now as high as it's been since his 2009 postseason demolition, A-Rod's had a spotty record when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of Yankee fans. He's been booed at home probably far more than anyone who has been enshrined. We'll all be telling our grandkids about A-Rod someday but it won't all be good stuff.
Always present is the steroid thing. Pettitte's ceremony Saturday marked the first time an MLB player with a known PED history has had his number retired. A few players under speculative indictment have gotten the nod but in general teams have been shy about honoring players who've been kept out of the Hall of Fame on drug-related grounds. Number 25 isn't hanging for Barry Bonds in San Francisco, for Rafael Palmeiro in Arlington, or for Mark McGwire in Oakland or St. Louis. There's no 21 flag flying at Wrigley Field for Sammy Sosa. Whether or not you believe his "aw shucks" tale about how he only did it once, and only under pressure from schoolyard bully Roger Clemens, and only to return from injury sooner and help the team, Pettitte confronted his PED use head-on from the start. That's a far cry from how A-Rod's handled things. Redemption or not, he's been caught twice, served a year-long suspension, and blatantly deceived through any public forum that would have him.
Still, the idea of 13 pinned up next to all the others isn't as crazy as it once seemed. The Yankees' relationship with A-Rod has clearly thawed in recent months, with the two sides coming to an amicable agreement on the Willie Mays milestone bonus and the team even planning a ceremony in September to honor Rodriguez's 3,000th hit. The Yankees decided to stop their petulant foot stomping over A-Rod's contract, which they willingly agreed to, coincidentally, just as his remarkable comeback story became a game-winning and profit-making venture. Can we really expect them to pass on a sold out crowd and the opportunity to hock $35 "Alex Rodriguez Day" tee shirts and hats in the not-too-distant future?
If the idea of A-Rod sharing anything with the likes of Ruth, Gehrig and Ford, much less a bronze-sealed place in Yankee lore churns your stomach I can't tell you you're wrong to feel that way. He's behaved bizarrely and inexplicably often enough to earn that gut reaction. One way or another, though history is going to view 2004 through 2017 as the "A-Rod era" in the Bronx. For all the angst he's weathered and caused, A-Rod is on a very short list among the best of all time. He's far more a Yankee than he is anything else. Monument Park is for the outstanding and the unforgettable and A-Rod deserves to someday have his place there with the rest of the greats and the kind of greats.