On Sunday night, Alex Rodriguez belted the 659th homer of his long career, something that only four other players in major league history have accomplished. With his next one, he will tie Giants legend Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list and spark craziness on social media, all while his own organization collectively acts like that llama David Spade voiced in The Emperor’s New Groove.
PED controversy or not, it is still quite amazing to see a player amass so many homers before turning 40. The 2014 suspension obviously slowed down his pace, but he will reach 660 homers roughly around the same age Barry Bonds did:
|Babe Ruth||5/28/1933||Milt Gaston, CWS||38 years, 111 days|
|Hank Aaron||8/6/1972||Wayne Simpson, CIN||38 years, 183 days|
|Willie Mays||8/17/1973||Don Gullett, CIN||42 years, 103 days|
|Barry Bonds||4/12/2004||Matt Kinney, MIL||39 years, 263 days|
|Alex Rodriguez||?||?||39 years, 274 days*|
As A-Rod approaches this remarkable figure, it’s worth looking back on the previous home run milestones he’s reached throughout his 21-year career. For as much fun as it would be to see him march to 700, this very well could be the last one he ever achieves depending on how he ages and how long the Yankees want to keep him around.
June 12, 1995
A wunderkind who was the first overall pick in the 1993 Draft, A-Rod actually came up in 1994 at age 18, shortly before his 19th birthday, and he played about a month without any homers. Perhaps his first career dinger could have come in a September call-up appearance, but of course September baseball never arrived for the ’94 campaign. (A-Rod is the last player remaining who went on strike.) So the best prospect in baseball’s first homer would have to wait until June 1995. A-Rod spent a lot of time shuttling back and forth between the Mariners and Triple-A Tacoma that season, but while his overall numbers left something to be desired, he did slug .408 with five homers in 48 games.
Number one came at home against the Royals in the homer-happy Kingdome, a fourth inning clout off future relief ace Tom Gordon with no one on base. A-Rod was still just 19. Although the Ken Griffey-less lineup surprised with nine runs scored that day despite batting Doug Strange of all players fifth, Chris Bosio got knocked around and the M’s lost, 10-9. Fortunately for A-Rod, they came from behind to stun the Angels and win the AL West, and when Griffey scored his unforgettable winning run in Game 5 of the ALDS, Seattle’s future star was the first person to mob Junior at the plate. What an introduction.
August 12, 1998
So much changed for A-Rod between his inaugural trot around the bases and the century mark. The same year he turned 21, he became a superstar, an absurdly talented all-around threat both at the plate and in the field. He had three straight All-Star seasons, won the ’96 batting title with a .358/.414/.631 triple slash, and was the consensus top shortstop in the game, even ahead of East Coast favorites Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.
The ’98 season was another thrilling year for A-Rod as he became the third member of the 40/40 Club and crushed his 100th dinger, a two-run bomb to left off the Blue Jays’ Nerio Rodriguez, the winning pitcher against an otherwise-reeling Seattle club. Although there is unfortunately no easily accessible footage of number 100, please behold the horror of nearby number 93, a homer on the horrendously conceived “Turn Ahead the Clock Night.”
May 12, 2001
The popular A-Rod who broke out in Seattle was publicly viewed in a different light after signing his staggering 10-year, $240 million deal with the Rangers. Of course, he remained one of the game’s greatest power threats in one of the most unforgettable seasons in baseball history. His 11th homer of the year and 200th career shot was a two-run blast to left-center against Jon Garland and kicked off a 16-6 shellacking of the White Sox. This was a huge game for A-Rod, as he also notched number 201 while driving in six runs and recording nine of his career-high 393 total bases. Not a bad Saturday night in Chicago.
April 2, 2003
Remarkably, it took A-Rod under two years to hit 100 more dingers to clinch number 300. That what a pair of 50-homer seasons will do, including a career-high of 57 in 2002, setting the single-season record for a shortstop. It was thus only the Rangers’ third game of the season when A-Rod walloped his 300th homer against Ramon Ortiz, an absolutely monstrous shot to center field in Anaheim’s “Bo Jackson territory.” Texas fell to the defending champion Angels by a score of 11-5, setting the tone for the season; A-Rod’s first MVP would come with a last-place team, making him one of only a handful of players to achieve that somewhat dubious feat.
June 6, 2005
Two years and one tiny sport-altering trade later, A-Rod was on the Yankees in the midst of another MVP season. Only in the world of truly elite players could a 36-homer, .888 OPS season be considered an “off-year,” but that’s how some Yankee fans perceived his 2004. If he felt like he had anything to prove, he responded in a big way with a 48-homer, .321/.421/.610 season.
Sunday was the anniversary of A-A-Rod’s unforgettable three-homer, 10 RBI game, but June 8th in Miller Park wasn’t half-bad, either. First, he belted a two-run homer to left against now-current teammate Chris Capuano for number 399 and an early 2-0 lead. Then with the game out of hand in the eighth, A-Rod crushed his 400th homer on an opposite field blast off Jorge De La Rosa. The Yankees won in a 12-3 rout, en route to their eighth straight AL East crown.
August 4, 2007
A-Rod continued his biennial trend of milestone homers in MVP seasons with perhaps his most iconic one to date. While knocking on the door of the highly esteemed 500 Home Run Club, he fell into a 3-for-27 slump, as many players often do while chasing legendary round numbers. (Even Jeter stumbled before his 3,000th hit.) With the pressure mounting, the chase finally came to an end on a hot August afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Again facing a future teammate (albeit briefly) in the Royals’ Kyle Davies, A-Rod popped a long, arcing drive to left. As everyone, including the men in uniform at home plate, watched the ball sail toward the foul pole, YES broadcaster Ken Singleton brilliantly captured the crowd’s emotions with his call: “First pitch is hit high in the air deep to left field. If this is fair, it could be–It is! Number 500 for Alex Rodriguez!”
The 363 foot drive was the 36th of 54 homers that season by A-Rod, an incredible mark that will likely long stand as the Yankees record for a righthanded batter. When he touched home, his teammates mobbed the 32-year-old who was the fastest in baseball history to ever reach 500 homers.
August 4, 2010
Exactly three years to the day of number 500, A-Rod concluded another memorable pursuit of a milestone in his attempt to become just the seventh man in baseball history to slug 600 homers. He was likely around the peak of his popularity among Yankees fans, as the previous October, he shed his previous pinstripe playoff slumps to become their postseason hitting hero on the way to the franchise’s 27th title and at long last after 16 years, the first of his career.
It was another humid day in the Bronx, though across the street at the new Yankee Stadium. Again, A-Rod was in a bit of a skid (8-for-45 since number 599), but he took care of business in the first, with the Blue Jays’ Shaun Marcum on the hill. There was no question of fair or foul this time; number 600 was a 417 foot bomb to dead center in Monument Park. It was his 17th of a 30-homer season, the 14th and seemingly final time he would reach that plateau. Again, his teammates converged at home plate to laud their slugging star.
It would be some time before that would happen again. Thanks to the controversial five years since then, no one is sure what the fan reaction will be when A-Rod ties and eclipses Mays. However, Mays has said he’s happy to see it happen. I know I’ll be excited, and I have a good feeling that given his popularity in the clubhouse, his teammates will once again applaud his efforts.
It’s not every day that legends are passed.
Photo credit: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports Images