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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

To be perfectly honest


By John B Holway

I'm a Red Sox fan, not an A-Rod fan. Still, his bombshell news puzzles me.

Rodriquez doesn't look like a typical steroid user, and his numbers don’t follow the familiar Bonds-Clemens-McGwire pattern, with all their biggest years coming late in life. If anything, the data suggest that steroids were of dubious value to him.

He says he started taking them in 2001, when he was 25. His home runs did increase that year from 41 to 52, but that could be explained by an extra 80 at bats, a new friendly park, and the fact that 25 is historically a big age for power hitters. At the same age Babe Ruth also moved from the majors’ then worst hitting park (Fenway) to its coziest, the Polo Grounds, and jumped from 29 to 54.

The next year Babe climbed to 59, and Roger Maris zoomed from 39 to 61, so A-Rod’s 57 was not out of line. All three tumbled from those peaks at 27 (Ruth was benched part of the year.)

Rodriquez did test positive in ’03, when he was 27.

The year he says he stopped at age 28 was also his first in Yankee Stadium with its cavernous “Death Valley.” Predictably, he tumbled to 36 homers. If he was going to take steroids, that was surely the time to do it. The evidence suggests that he didn't.

Age AB HR HR/550 AB HR HR/550
24 554 41 41 432 29 37
25 632 52* 45 457 54* 65
26 624 57 50 540 59 60
27 607 47 43 406 35 47
28 601 36** 33 522 41 43

* New, friendlier parks

** New, tougher park

Maris was 20/550 in Cleveland, 39/550 in New York, and 57/550 when he broke the record at age 26.

Rodriquez’ numbers would not have attracted a sleuth’s suspicion. And his neck size did not grow noticeably bigger either.

Of more interest is his sudden jump from 35 to 51 in 2007, followed by a drop back to 35 in ’08. Was that steroids? Maybe, but not necessarily. He was 31 that year. It could have been just a statistical spike -- Ruth hit 60 at age 32. A-Rod’s drop-off the following year was partly due to 60 less at bats.

I wonder if Rodriquez’ cousin wasn't bamboozled by some Venezuelan black-market sharpsters, who took his money and sold him mostly sugar water. Did Alex throw away his chance for Cooperstown for a placebo?

­­­­­John B Holway’s latest book, Kick Mule!, a screenplay for TV, brings the history of the Negro Leagues to life through the adventures of Josh Gibson, Mule Suttles, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean, Willie Mays, and more.


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