08/04/07 4:34 PM ET
Milestone just a pit stop for A-Rod
Youngest player to 500 homers destined for all-time mark
Shocking, because in a relative blink he is expected to grab a mark that, when Bonds gets there, will have been broken only twice in 72 years (Babe Ruth retired in 1935 with 714, which Aaron pushed to 755 in 1976).Even the man himself appears to be getting increasingly comfortable with the notion of soon replacing Bonds in the bubble. Only a couple of years ago, Rodriguez discounted his prospects by saying he couldn't envision "hanging around" just for a shot at the record. With 500 at barely past his 32nd birthday, he has removed himself from the "hanging around" stage. This does not make him any more comfortable talking about those prospects, but neither does he continue to just shrug them off. A couple of recent encounters in San Francisco with Bonds -- during the Yankees' Interleague series in late June, then the All-Star Game -- afforded opportunities for Rodriguez to openly gaze into his future as the Next Chosen. At one point, A-Rod said, "I'm not worried about that. It's hard to think about individual things when you desperately want to win. The other thing is I got to this point by not thinking about myself and thinking about the team. This is Barry's time, not my time." On another occasion, Rodriguez revealed his disdain for projections, saying, "I kind of feel shy talking about it, because I hit 14 home runs in April and they said I was going to hit 140. When you're [still hundreds] away ... I think it's kind of ridiculous." Mathematically, Rodriguez can't be deterred: At even 75 percent of his current rate (allowing for age, though that may be unnecessary, since proverbially hitters don't even reach their primes until 33, 34) he would reach 760 during the 2014 season -- which he would start as a 38-year-old. The preceding projection is sheer folly, but even that has a point: In the seasons they entered at 38, Ruth had 652 homers, Aaron had 639 -- and Bonds had 567. Down the stretch to 500, Rodriguez found himself in an interesting race. Not with another person -- there's simply no one else running on the same track -- but with the calendar. Down the stretch, he needed only a typical A-Rod week to beat his birthday, July 27, to the figure. Regardless, he was sure to blow by the existing record for youngest to post 500, by Jimmie Foxx, who was a month shy of his 33rd birthday when he connected for No. 500 on Sept. 24, 1940. But there would have been something symbolic about Rodriguez getting there still at 31. It would have dramatized the bright tail on this meteor streaking across the diamond sky. Compare Rodriguez's speed track to the game's other fabled sluggers: Ruth, Aaron, Willie Mays, Sosa and Griffey, who all reached 500 at 34. Bonds got there at 36. A-Rod, at times, may make it look easy. But it is anything but, and to say otherwise cheapens the art, and the work and dedication it has taken to hone it to such levels. Not to mention the durability, an often-overlooked factor. Reggie Jackson, who popped a few long balls in his day and has been a studious Rodriguez watcher since he joined the Yankees, says of him, "He works harder than any man I've ever known in baseball." And when Rodriguez's work is done, he will leave it as no one ever has.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.