12/26/10 10:00 AM EST
A-Rod's historic blast a 2010 highlight
Yankees slugger a member of exclusive 600-homer club
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The Yankees slugger says he has finally found peace, reinventing himself as a team-first clubhouse personality and proudly wearing the glittering World Series ring he had sought for so long.
But despite his turbulent career, the root of Rodriguez's biography is that he is a power hitter, pure and simple. And as he continues to stomp through the record books, amazing accomplishments are thought of as just checkpoints on the path.
So it was on the afternoon of Aug. 4 at Yankee Stadium, as Rodriguez became the youngest player in baseball history to join the 600-home-run club, smashing a two-run blast to center field off the Blue Jays' Shaun Marcum.
"It's definitely a special number," Rodriguez said that day. "I'm certainly proud of it. I'll treasure it for a long, long time. Many years from today, I'll be able to reflect a lot better."
By season's end, only Barry Bonds (762), Henry Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660) and Ken Griffey Jr. (630) would have more home runs than Rodriguez, who slugged 30 homers for the American League Wild Card winners, finishing the year with a total of 613 dingers for his career to date.
From afar, Aaron applauded Rodriguez's progress.
"When you reach that plateau, no matter where it is, whether you're playing in the Majors or the Minors, it's a tremendous accomplishment," Aaron said. "It means an awful lot to whoever reaches this achievement."
The homer inspired a Yankee Stadium curtain call and drew a sigh of relief from Rodriguez, who endured a wait of 13 games and 47 at-bats after his 599th, taking the pursuit of his 600th on the road to Cleveland and Tampa Bay before finally getting it done at home.
"It was just such a great moment," Nick Swisher said. "We've been waiting for this for a while now. The way that it happened -- a home run to center field in this ballpark -- you got to be a big man to hit it there. He's just a great athlete and to reach such a great milestone, it was an honor for all of us to be there and witness that."
Rodriguez hit No. 600 eight days after his 35th birthday, one year and 188 days younger than Ruth was when he swatted his 600th home run for the Yankees. The 2,267 games Rodriguez required to reach 600 are second behind only Ruth (2,044), and the 8,688 at-bats he needed were fourth behind Ruth (6,921), Bonds (8,211) and Sammy Sosa (8,637).
The historic blow was clubbed three years to the day after Rodriguez's 500th, which came off Kansas City's Kyle Davies at the old Yankee Stadium. The stress from -- and attention paid to -- the pursuit could serve Rodriguez well in the future, if and when he gets close to the 700-homer plateau.
"He got to 600 pretty quickly, so I'm sure this won't be the last [milestone]," Derek Jeter said. "There are a lot of good things for him to come. I'm happy he had a chance to do it at home. He did what he's done 600 times."
When the Yankees re-signed Rodriguez to a 10-year contract before the 2008 season, the team agreed on incentives that would push the value of his mega-deal to $305 million, assuming that Rodriguez would eventually become baseball's all-time home run king.
Rodriguez's 2009 admission of performance-enhancing substances during three seasons with the Rangers from 2001 through 2003, a span over which he hit 156 of his homers, have tarnished that pursuit in the eyes of some.
At age 34 and under contract with the Yankees through 2017, a run at Bonds' total is still in the realm of possibility, assuming that injuries, like the career-threatening hip surgery Rodriguez faced in 2009, do not flare up again.
As the saga goes, it was the recovery from that surgery, performed in Vail, Colo., by noted specialist Dr. Marc Philippon, that so changed Rodriguez's outlook.
Staring at the snowy ski slopes while his teammates went through the paces of Spring Training in Florida, the baseball world was still buzzing about Rodriguez's steroid history. He vowed that he would make a point to eliminate the noise that had enveloped his baseball life.
"I said at that press conference [in Tampa, Fla.], that there are some things I would love to go back and change," Rodriguez said. "But the truth of the matter is that none of us can go back and change time. But I knew with the green I had in front of me that I would have the opportunity to rewrite some of the chapters in my life and in my career."
Rodriguez wasn't the first to use the phrase, "Speak softly and carry a big stick," but he found the practice worked for him.
Belting a home run -- No. 554 -- in his first at-bat back from the surgery, Rodriguez kept his commentary to a minimum, taking the advice of Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo, who advised the slugger that less could be more.
It was no coincidence that Rodriguez's relationships in the clubhouse flourished as the Yankees powered toward their 27th World Series title.
Rodriguez took young stars like Robinson Cano under his wing and made a point to engage every player in pinstripes, whether it was an established talent or a reserve outfielder just up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He even made strides to patch an icy relationship with Jeter.
"So much has changed, for me, for my place in that clubhouse," Rodriguez said. "That's the No. 1 thing that's changed -- my relationship with my teammates. The journey is what's fun, and playing with a team like that, with my teammates, I'm just in a good place. I'm enjoying playing the game, I'm enjoying playing good team baseball. It's much different than 500."
That was all in Rodriguez's rearview mirror as the specially marked baseball, branded 'A104,' landed in the netting that protects Monument Park. A stadium guard, Frankie Babilonia, retrieved the ball and would later be rewarded with a $10,000 check from the Yankees' security company.
In a way, that sunny August afternoon might have had more of an effect on Babilonia, a lucky observer who was in the right place at the right time. Rodriguez was proud of the round number on his home run total, but 2009 taught him that there are much more meaningful accomplishments to celebrate.
"For me, the perspective of hitting 600 home runs is, it feels really good," Rodriguez said. "But when you win a World Series, which is what I worked my whole life for, there's no personal achievement that can compare to celebrating on the mound and being the last team standing."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.