During most weeks, the primary Yankee focus is the performance of the team on the field in the form of wins and losses. We’d care about Beltrán’s bat going through menopause, Chris Young’s MVP candidacy, wins, and losses. In the words of a frustrated and impassioned Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game!” But this is not most weeks; two stories deserve our attention above all others.
The biggest news to this point in the week is Masahiro Tanaka’s injury. He’s back on the disabled list for an injury to his throwing arm and the Tommy John chorus is louder than ever. I wrote about Tanaka at length during the first week of the season and stand by everything I said. It’s possible he ends up on the operating table by the end of May, but that doesn’t mean the team made a mistake avoiding surgery last year. #TanakaWatch2015 is in full swing and Nick Ashbourne kicked off our extensive coverage here this week.
The other main story this week is the countdown to 661. It’s unofficially “A-Rod Week” here at BP Bronx but given his penchant for dragging out these home run milestones, it might turn into “A-Rod Month” if he gets stuck at 659 or 660 for a while. Your newsfeed is already flooded with A-Rod this, A-Rod that, but please be patient as I give you my two cents on the impending milestone.
I am among a select 79,762 people to ever live. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and despite my father’s childhood ties to the Yankees, I grew up a Giants fan. In recent years this allegiance resulted in a superstitious belief in even year magic, a constant stench of garlic on my breath, and a growing collection of rings. During childhood though, my memories of baseball boil down to an affliction for rally monkeys and a montage of milestone home runs from Barry Bonds. On September 17, 2004, that 39-year old behemoth launched a ball into the bleachers becoming the third player to ever hit 700 home runs. And with that swing of the bat, I became one of 79,762 to ever witness such an event in person.
Over the past eleven or so years, Alex Rodriguez has done a pretty good job as the Yankees very own Barry Bonds. Ever since he first donned a Yankees jersey in 2004, he’s slowly worked his way up the career home run leaderboards, crossing off record after record, toppling hall of famer after hall of famer. His one-two steps to catch and overtake significant home run milestones play an integral role in recent Yankees history, just as Barry’s influenced my early life. As Rodriguez approaches Willie Mays’ record of 660 home runs, the parallels between him and Bonds run deep.
Both started their careers elsewhere — Bonds in Pittsburgh, Rodriguez in Seattle and then Texas. Both piled up MVP trophies — Bonds got five in San Francisco, Rodriguez got two in New York. Each career was tarnished by steroid use and despite being the best hitter ever at each of their positions, Bonds and Rodriguez face uphill battles to get a plaques in Cooperstown.
At a franchise level, the comparisons again hold. Throughout Bonds’ prime in San Francisco he was surrounded with veteran talent in an effort to constantly compete for a World Series. For Rodriguez and the Yankees of the last ten plus years the same has been true. In both cases, the teams feel like they underachieved, only able to parlay consistent contention into one World Series appearance during the players’ careers (Giants lost in 2002, Yankees won in 2009). The dynasty for the Yankees came, and for the Giants is currently coming, during the early part of a more humble, fan-friendly player’s career – Jeter and Posey. The final key home run milestones were and will be toppled during a period of franchise mediocrity – the Giants won 70-something games during the last three years with Bonds, the Yankees likely 80-something with Rodriguez’s final few.
As for the records themselves, Rodriguez topping Willie Mays’ 660 could be construed as poetic justice for Bonds surpassing Babe Ruth’s 714. For Giants fans, Willie Mays, is the greatest baseball player of all time. He patrolled center field better than anyone, he hit for both power and average, and the team continues to celebrate him to this day. Babe Ruth on the other hand was the greatest player of the greatest franchise of all time. He holds the top spot on the list of all-time Yankees, and according to career offensive WAR is the best hitter of all time (Bonds second, Mays third, Rodriguez twelfth). Mays is Ruth for the Giants, and Ruth is Mays for the Yankees. When admitted steroid-user Alex Rodriguez hits 661 and passes the Say Hey Kid, it will be a sad day for me, but might serve as retribution for when a juiced up Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth’s 714.
The one key difference between Barry and Alex is their local perception. At the time Bonds hit his final four milestones, home runs 661, 700, 715, and 753, his steroid use was alleged, but not confirmed (the Mitchell Report was released the winter after he retired). Due to the rumors and his general arrogance, the general public might have hated him. But in the confines of San Francisco, out of either unconditional love or general naïveté about his PED use, Barry Bonds was still a beloved figure and celebrated appropriately.
For A-Rod, these last few years have been rough in New York. Since admitting in 2009 that he used steroids during his Texas years, his relationship with the city and the team was strained. In the years since, his steep decline, involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, and the resulting record-setting suspension turned him into a pariah amongst fans, media members, and even his own general manager. Hot start to this season aside, his status as such is etched in stone.
Right now Rodriguez is only slightly older than Bonds when he hit 661, but Bonds continued to put up OPS’s over 1.000 until he was 42. For Alex, this will likely be his last significant home run record (700 is a ways away) and as fans, we should embrace the chance to see him break it. Up until he hit his final home run, stadiums were packed to see Barry Bonds break home run records. As the picture below from Monday details, Alex Rodriguez is not getting the same treatment, even in his home ballpark. For the next day, week, or however long it takes him to hit two more big flies, I urge fans everywhere to celebrate the history Alex is about to re-write. Take some time out of your day to appreciate Al from Miami for being one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball.
Two first place teams in the Bronx. I’ve seen bigger crowds at The Trop. pic.twitter.com/nfQDUh74dV
— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) April 27, 2015
Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports