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For A-Rod, breaking Bonds's record is no sure thing

Did you hear Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th career home run on Wednesday? It's true. He hit it off Toronto's Shaun Marcum. It sailed into the Monument Park section of the new Yankee Stadium. It came three years to the day after his 500th career homer. So, now you know.

Obviously, hitting 600 homers ain't what it used to be. For the first 120-plus years of baseball history, only three men did it, and their names were legendary: Ruth, Aaron, Mays. But in the last decade, membership in the 600 Home Run Club has more than doubled, to seven, with the additions of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and now A-Rod.

It isn't just the stain of steroids (as worn by Bonds, Sosa and Rodriguez) that has removed the glory from 600. It's the general cheapening of home run totals that occurred during the so-called Steroids Era. When everybody's hitting them, home runs just aren't as big a deal. At one time, it felt as if 500 was the new 400, when it came to exclusive home run clubs. Now, 600 might be the new 400.

Which means 800 may be the new 600. Folks are treating it as a given now that Rodriguez, at 35 the youngest ever to reach 600, will break Bonds's all-time record of 762, and perhaps even break the 800-homer barrier. But I'm not so sure.

First the simple math: Rodriguez needs 163 more homers to break Bonds's record. If he averages 30 homers a season -- well below his career average of about 41 (from 1996-2009) -- he would become the all-time champ about halfway through the 2016 season, just before his 41st birthday.

The question is whether Rodriguez can keep up such a pace.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were conditioned to accept the fact that hitters in their late 30s could maintain -- or, in the cases of Mark McGwire and Bonds, even exceed -- their career norms. But we now know there was a (chemical) reason for that. These days, with stiff testing for steroids and amphetamines, the game has essentially returned to its pre-1990s state, where players in their late 30s routinely suffer steep declines in production.

If we're looking for a comparable player to provide some context to Rodriguez's career, it shouldn't be Bonds. It should be someone like Willie Mays, who was on an A-Rod-like pace through age 35 (Mays probably would have been on the doorstep of 700, except that he lost almost two full seasons to military service), but who hit only 22, 23, 13, 28, 18 and 8 home runs in the six years following his 35th birthday. Hank Aaron, who kept hitting 30-40 homers a year right up to his 40th birthday, was an extreme exception, an outlier.

If you look closely at Rodriguez's statistics this year, you come away with the feeling his decline has already begun. His .264 batting average, .334 on-base percentage and .473 slugging percentage are all career lows since he became a full-time player in 1996. To assume a 30-homer-a-year pace for the rest of Rodriguez's career may be giving him a little too much credit. I'd argue that 20 homers per year is more realistic -- in which case it would take him about eight more seasons to reach Bonds's record. He would be 42, on the cusp of 43, at that point. Other than Aaron, the outlier, and Bonds, the juicer, there really isn't a model for that.

Rodriguez's contract with the Yankees runs through 2017, but that doesn't guarantee he will make it to the end of it. Who could have known, when Cal Ripken sat out a game at the end of the 1998 season to snap his consecutive-games-played streak, that the Iron Man would never again play a full, healthy season?

Rodriguez had major hip surgery just last year, costing him about a quarter of that season. One more serious injury could spell the end of any talk of 763 or 800. If 763 homers for Rodriguez is the over/under, I'm taking the under.

By Dave Sheinin  |  August 5, 2010; 8:34 AM ET
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Who cares, he is a cheater like Bonds.

Posted by: mofares | August 5, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

A 600-homer career
Was boosted by shots in his rear;
While New Yorkers applaud
At away games a fraud
Like ARod deserves a Bronx cheer.

Posted by: jd121 | August 5, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

More importantly: Strasburg is throwing a simulated game today. Where's the online chat?

Posted by: joemktg1 | August 5, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Take the under, if A-Rod really is off the juice, his body will be breaking down frequently, no way je can keep up the pace. Bonds on the other hand was so deep in denial he kept on juicing, not giving a damn about perceptions or consequences.

Posted by: je121819 | August 5, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

This is a complete joke. While the gutless, clueless Commissioner just stands by with that stupid face, somebody needs to remember the accomplishments of Mays, Ruth, Maris, and Aaron.

Thank God for the baseball writers and the Hall of Fame. McGuire, Sosa, Bonds, and this joke don't stand a prayer.

Better than asterisk, anyday.

Posted by: SwellLevel5 | August 5, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Well, that joke of a ball park is gone help him. But, I think that he'll average something like 25 per year. Hard to mimagine him staying injury free and his decline has been steady, though he's still performing and all. It is going to be close.

Posted by: dfh21 | August 5, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

First, I think he'll get there.

Secondly, "thank god for the baseball writers?" Excuse me? The ones who said basically nothing during the steroid era? The ones who today feign ignorance? I was 21 in 1998 and all my friends and I knew big mac and sosa were on the roids and we talked about it all the time during the chase. Anyone who denies they knew are as bad as the owner/czar bud selig. He's no commissioner. The HoF will be a joke without the juicers in there too.

Posted by: WrongDog | August 5, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

The real question is whether someone like Albert Pujols will be able to reach 763 (steroids free). Of course that is fairly unlikely - he would also need Aaron longevity.

Posted by: Levijohn | August 5, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I saw the home run live at Yankee stadium yesterday (took the train up). I don't personally care for him as a player but it was still awesome to witness.

Posted by: authorofpoetry | August 5, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Who cares that one steroid user beats another steroid users for a record that is now meaningless because of all the rampant steroid use...

Posted by: lades1 | August 5, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

A-Rod's just another member of the band "Big Head Barry and the Monsters". Look, I'm not a Pete Rose fan by any means, but these guys hurt the game every bit as much, if not more, than Rose did. They should be treated accordingly.

Posted by: clfrdj | August 5, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

If he can stay healthy for 10 years.

Posted by: richs91 | August 5, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

*A-Rod… *A is for asterisk

Posted by: thebushreport | August 5, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

he is a great player and deserves to be in the hall. I dont care about him breaking the HR record. Because like Bonds he will not get credit for doing it. I still regard Aaron as the HR King but I think bonds is a HOF'er as well. He had hall stats long before he took steroids.

Posted by: ged0386 | August 5, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Sosa, Bonds, and Rodriguez are all lucky I wasn't Commissioner. They, and the rest of those felonious cheaters (remember steroids are not just against the rules of baseball, they are illegal), would all be banned for life from the game a-la Pete Rose.

Keep in mind Pete Rose is banned for betting on baseball. But there is no evidence -- or even allegation -- that he ever changed the outcome of a game.

Meanwhile, all these drug-taking cheaters clearly changed the outcome of hundreds of games with their illegal activities. And I believe an excellent case can be made that they soiled the reputation of Baseball to a much greater degree than Pete Rose ever did.

Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only members of the 600-club. The only club the rest of them belong in meets 7-days a week in cell block C.

Kevin Olson
Manassas, VA

Posted by: noslok | August 5, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Baseball has always been a joke!
A game where strikes are determine by an umpire and each umpire calls it differntly.
Seriously do you believe its on straight playing level?

After the strikes season people were saying they never attend a baseball game again! That was until the balls were going out of the park in to people living room who lived near the stadium. lol

Now your upset because you found out they were taking drugs? What you thought players got better over a strike season?
Stop whinning its over now!

Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only members of the 600-club.

I agree!

Posted by: shamken | August 5, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Sad thing is, nobody will really care if he breaks Bonds record

He is another steroid freak that cheated to get where he is today

Nobody looks at him as the true HR leader

Posted by: Bious | August 5, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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