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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who’s Your Daddy? Father Time – Part II

The Hat Trick recently ran its first in a series of pieces on star athletes in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB who are approaching the ends of their careers. Where have they been? What can we expect during their remaining time as an active professional athlete? How much time might they have left?


Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis tore his triceps, possibly ending his 2012 season. Speculation has run rampant that the injury may have ended the career of the 17 year veteran. While I personally cannot imagine Lewis allowing his career to end in the middle of a season due to injury, if this year is the last we see of Lewis, it could possibly represent the end of the greatest defensive career in the history of the NFL. 

Lewis entered the league in 1996 out of the University of Miami. He was a first round draft pick in the first year in the recorded history of the Baltimore Ravens franchise. Lewis made an immediate impact as a rookie and reached the Pro Bowl in his second season. Lewis led one of the greatest single season defenses in the history of football in the 2000 Ravens. Those Ravens went on to win Super Bowl XXXV, a game in which the Baltimore defense did not give up a single point.

Many are aware of Lewis legal troubles in early 2000. Following Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, Lewis was near the scene of an altercation that resulted in two stabbing deaths. Lewis’ limousine was riddled with bullet holes. Lewis and two of his associates were taken into custody and Lewis was booked with double murder. While there was no evidence against Lewis, the murder charges were dropped, and his associates were acquitted of the killings, the incident permanently stained Lewis’ image and reputation.

I expect Lewis to return in 2013. I hope he gets through the season without injury. Should that happen, I would think the odds are less than 50/50 of Lewis playing beyond next season. Father Time is undefeated, especially in a physical position like middle linebacker. I do expect him to coast right into the Hall of Fame five years after his retirement.

I cannot accpet this being the final play of Lewis' career and I doubt Ray-Ray can, either. 1

Garnett was an 18 year old sensation who entered the league directly from high school. Drafted by the then lowly Minnesota Timberwolves with the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, Garnett immediately injected hope into a franchise that had none in its existence.

Garnett helped lead the Wolves to their first, ever, playoff appearance in 1996 and made the Western Conference All-Star team that year. The Timberwolves came within two games of the NBA Finals, falling to the Lakers in six games in the 2004 Western Conference Finals. Garnett was a first team All NBA member three times while with Minnesota.

Garnett was traded from a depleted Minnesota team to the equally depleted Boston Celtics following the 2007 season. Joining Paul Pierce in Boston, which also acquired Ray Allen in free agency, Garnett and the Celtics ran roughshod through the Eastern Conference en route to winning the NBA Finals in six games over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics would win the Eastern Conference again, in 2010, losing the Finals to the Lakers in seven games.

Entering his 18th year in the NBA at the age of 36, Garnett’s remaining years in the NBA are a mystery. He could conceivably play for five more seasons, barring a major injury. At the same time, there was significant media speculation over whether or not the 14 time All-Star and 2004 Most Valuable Player would return for the 2012-2013 NBA season. My guess is that as long as Garnett can play at a high level and his team can compete in the Eastern Conference, Garnett will continue to play. Having recently signed a three year extension paying him $12 million per season, count on seeing the Big Ticket, minimally, through 2015.    

LeBron may be the road block in Garnett's path to another NBA title. 2 

Alex Rodriguez is a true lightning rod, no pun intended off of his nickname, “A-Rod”. When great players become tabloid headliners, it can be very easy for even sophisticated sports fans to lose sight of just how talented that player is. I doubt that the younger casual baseball fan is even aware that Alex Rodriguez made a name for himself with the Seattle Mariners. After five All-Star seasons with the Mariners, the Texas Rangers took note and offered him a record 10 year, $250 million contract. Rodriguez became an overnight A-list sports celebrity.

While his first two seasons with the Rangers were statistically superior, Rodriguez won the American League MVP in his third and final season with the Rangers in 2003, impressive considering that the Rangers never reached the playoffs during A-Rod’s tenure there. The team simply did not have the pieces to put around Rodriguez to make a pennant push. Part of the Rangers’ challenge was complicated by the weight of Rodreiguez’s contract. Which team could take on a $25 million/year contract (in the mid-2000s) and still be competitive in acquiring other free agents? Hmm….

Following its second loss in the World Series in three years, the New York Yankees acquired Rodriguez in a trade with the Rangers prior to the 2004 season in an effort to return to the top of baseball’s mountain. It took longer than expected, but the Yankees returned to the World Series, dethroning the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. Rodriguez put the team on his back and helped lead the Bronx Bombers back to the promised land.

The 37 year old A-Rod has five years remaining on a contract that will pay him $114 million during that span. Following an above average regular season and a disappointing postseason, rumors have been abound about the possibility of Rodriguez being traded. Rodriguez has failed to hit .300 in four consecutive seasons. His slugging percentage in 2012 was the lowest it had been since his rookie year. He has hit less than 100 RBIs and less than 30 homeruns in back-to-back (full) seasons for the first time, ever. Rodriguez, while still productive, is a declining player.

Considering the salary, I expect Rodriguez to play out the remainder of his contract, regardless of how far his play declines. A-Rod will likely surpass Babe Ruth on the all time homeruns list. And, in spite of the taint of a positive steroids test in 2003,  I expect Rodriguez to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame sooner than later, although probably not on the first ballot. Baseball writers will have to ask themselves if Rodriguez would have had an exemplary career (while playing against steroid using opponents) without the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs. His post 2003 resume is still impeccable. And I doubt that any reasonable person truly believes that Rodriguez would have been anything but his dominant self without the use of PEDs. Time will tell. 

Rodriguez was benched in Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS this year. His days as a bona fide superstar are limited if not up. 3
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