A-Rod has numbers, but doesn't have 'it'
Any month, week or day now, Alex Rodriguez will shatter the most underrated of baseball's great records. I mean, is this latest in the litany of New York Yankees sluggers really that close to owning more career grand slams than anybody?
This isn't good, by the way.
Then again, as has been the case involving other baseball records in recent times, Rodriguez officially will have this one, but the other guy always will have the magic.
The other guy is Lou Gehrig, the Yankee legend, who was sprinkled with pixie dust even before he slammed his 23rd and final homer with the bases loaded during the late 1930s. His record was considered an unreachable mountain for others, but Willie McCovey pulled close at 18. Then Robin Ventura matched that, and they were topped by Eddie Murray's 19 before the mighty surge to 21 by Manny Ramirez.
Now Rodriguez is better than all of them.
Well, except for Gehrig -- at least when it comes to magic regarding homers with the bases loaded.
Last weekend, against the Orioles in Baltimore, Rodriguez surpassed Ramirez with a 22nd grand slam. And, given A-Rod's prolific ways at the plate, he will have Nos. 23, 24 and counting before long. He will add that to his distinction of becoming the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs and later 600 home runs. He also is the only player to have 14 seasons with 100 RBIs or more. Plus, he still has a few pennies left in his record contract that he signed for $275 million.
None of that will matter, though, when it comes to A-Rod's final number of grand slams and his place in baseball history, because this is Gehrig's record, and there is nothing that Rodriguez or anybody in future generations can do about it.
The same goes for those in pursuit of 755.
Yes, I said 755, as opposed to 762. The former is the number of lifetime home runs for Hank Aaron, as opposed to the 762 for Barry Bonds. While Bonds is the record holder, Aaron always will be the standard bearer. So, you can see where I'm going.
When it comes to grand slams, let's just say Rodriguez won't be the standard bearer after he retires.
This goes beyond the fact that A-Rod joins Bonds as one of the primary faces of the Steroid Era. This is about the following: Gehrig and Aaron just have "it" when it comes to those records.
You can't describe "it," but you can feel "it."
As for Aaron, owner of more offensive records than anybody in baseball history, his "it" factor already was present long before he edged closer to becoming better than Babe Ruth in career homers. He literally won a National League pennant with a game-clinching homer for his Milwaukee Braves. His potent bat often hid the fact that he was efficient enough in the outfield to win three Gold Gloves.
It's just that Aaron's "it" factor became part of a loftier kingdom when he snatched Ruth's crown while overcoming hate mail and stifling media attention along the way.
Think about this: It's been 37 years since Aaron passed Ruth, but it's been just four years since Bonds passed Aaron. Even so, more folks can tell you about the circumstances surrounding Aaron's record-setting homer (that it was against Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, with the memorable call by Braves announcer Milo Hamilton, with the ball landing behind the left-field fence, with no Bowie Kuhn present, etc.) than they can about Bonds' moment.
Where was Bonds' moment?
When did it occur?
Does anybody really care?
In other words, Aaron is magic with that record, but so is Ruth, especially since The Babe remains synonymous with baseball itself.
That's why, despite Ruth losing his career home-run mark to The Hammer in 1974 and his single-season mark for homers to Roger Maris in 1961, Ruth's Nos. 714 and 60, respectively, haven't lost all of their zing.
Speaking of Maris, Mark McGwire and then Bonds surged past his record of 61 homers for a season within the last 13 years. But that hasn't mattered, either, because Maris still joins Gehrig, Aaron and Ruth as having "it" regarding one of baseball's mega records.
You wouldn't have thought so at the time.
Mickey Mantle was the people's choice to break that particular Ruth record in that particular season.
Instead, since Mantle's less charismatic teammate on the Yankees was racing toward doing so, there was angry talk that Maris had to achieve the mark within the traditional 154 games that Ruth played instead of the 162 games of 1961. At the very least, many folks said baseball needed to add an asterisk to Maris' mark.
Something strange happened after that. Maris didn't pass Ruth within those 154 games, and there was no asterisk.
But Maris became magic regarding that record nonetheless. They've even done books and movies about his 61 in 61, and they'll do the same about the accomplishments of McGwire and Bonds -- but not necessarily in a warm and fuzzy kind of way.
So Rodriguez can hit all of the grand slams he wants, and he'll still rank behind Gehrig in many of our hearts.
For one, Gehrig has been the Grand Slam King for more than 70 years, and longevity counts for something. Plus, here's what makes Gehrig's record even more impressive: All of his other ones, and they range from most consecutive seasons with 120 or more RBIs (eight) to most home runs during a game (four, to tie a bunch of others).
You may recall that Gehrig also earned his nickname as "The Iron Horse" by playing in a record 2,130 games before succumbing to a bizarre muscular disease that eventually was named in his honor. His record for that playing streak lasted 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr., kept going and going before snapping it in 1995.
Nothing against Ripken Jr., but Gehrig remains the standard bearer for that record, too.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.