Alex Rodriguez is one home run away from a most exclusive club. In Major League Baseball history, only six players have hit more than 600 home runs. Once Rodriguez hits No. 600, he's going to bound past Sammy Sosa, sixth on that list, who stands at 609. Ken Griffey, Jr. presents a bit more of a challenge, as he’s managed 630. But if Rodriguez doesn't pass that mark this year (it seems very unlikely that he will) his averages dictate that he will next year.
After Rodriguez surpasses Griffey, he’ll have to climb over some greats on his way to the top. The list from fourth to second goes from Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Then, on top, we have Barry Bonds. We're going to sidestep the Bonds moral steroid dilemma for now and focus on the man who's still playing, who's going to make history, any day now.
A-Rod began his career in Seattle playing for the Mariners and moved to the Texas Rangers before settling (where he'll probably retire) with the New York Yankees. Always considered one of the finest to play the game, he broke a 68 year record by becoming the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs in 2007. A mere three years later, he is in line to make history with 600.
Rodriguez's accomplishment, however, seems to be drawing (relatively) little media attention. Some of it has to be Bonds-related. The lingering effects of the Steroid Era still taint MLB in the minds of fans and sportswriters alike. Rodriguez is not Bonds, but he's not without sin: Just over a year ago, he admitted to using steroids. He said he only did so during his time with the Rangers due to the tremendous pressure to perform.
Baseball purists and armchair pundits can argue all day long whether the state of the game merits an asterisk or whether this entire generation does, but numbers speak: Barry Bonds is the all-time home runs leader, and Alex Rodriguez will probably surpass him if he continues on pace and plays for long enough.
So what's the deal with Rodriguez? What's the deal with the media? What's the deal with MLB? Why isn't this a bigger deal? It'll be celebrated in baseball circles, sure, but it won't be the all-out fete we had when Sosa Griffey or even Bonds passed the mark. Maybe it's the afore-mentioned taint of the admissions we've seen in the papers, but maybe it's just a product of the slowing-down era.
In 1998, we had Mark McGuire and Sosa (and Griffey) battling it out in the newspapers for the single-season home run crown. This year alone, we've had five no-hitters pitched. The game has changed dramatically from a (probably) steroid enhanced hitter's game to a pitcher's game. It's been coming for a long while, and some purists will try to convince you that it was never any other way. The records say otherwise.
Rodriguez will hit the mark any day now. He should have already done so to be honest. When he does, it should be a celebration. But it's probably a good sign for the emotional and mental health of baseball that the active player closest to him in the chase is Jim Thorne of the Chicago White Sox, a pretty non-controversial ball player. After that, well, we have Manny Ramirez, who comes replete with his own issues.