Hands up all of you who want to see Alex Rodriguez pass Willie Mays and move into fourth place in the career home run list. Hands up if you want to see “The Say Hey Kid” passed by the “Just Go Away Kid.”
Rodriguez slugged his 650th career homer Monday, and his 651st on Tuesday in the second of the three-game series between the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. It left him nine homers back of Mays and a $6-million (U.S.) bonus – part of a string of bonuses in the 10-year, $275-million contract Rodriguez signed with the Yankees on Dec. 13, 2007, which includes similar financial rewards for passing Babe Ruth’s 714 career homers, Hank Aaron’s 755, and tying and surpassing Barry Bonds’s major-league record (762).
Watch: Yankees blast Blue Jays 7-1
It also left him in little mood to talk about Mays or anybody other than his team. Rodriguez believes he’s in the same shape he’d be in late March, or early April of the average baseball season. He’s pleased that he’s making better contact with pitches in the high to mid-90s and seeing those pitches better.
“These games are so important to us, and I’m so far away from that,” Rodriguez, who has homered in back to back game and hit 36 of his career blasts at the Rogers Centre, said after Tuesday’s 7-1 win. “We need these wins like oxygen.” Far from sucking oxygen out of a room – something he does all too frequently – Rodriguez has helped breath life into the Yankees.
A-Rod did not do any postgame interviews Monday, and New York manager Joe Girardi posited Tuesday it might have been different had it been one of the “100s.”
“I haven’t seen where 50s have been celebrated,” Girardi said. “It’s not often you see a guy hit 650, but I think it’s the 100s [500, 600, 700] that people concentrate on, or when you pass a guy in front of you.”
As for the money? “I’m sure the fans don’t really get caught up in the bonus,” Girardi remarked – to a chorus of oh-yes-they-do from New York reporters.
Standing in the Yankees clubhouse Monday brought back memories of covering Bonds’s sullen pursuit of Aaron’s career record in August of 2007; of talking to one of Bonds’s San Francisco Giants teammates, reliever Steve Kline, before one game.
Kline reminisced about being with the Montreal Expos in 1998, when St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire hit five home runs off Montreal pitching in the final weekend of the regular season to finish with 70 homers and crush the then-single-season record.
When that series was over, each member of the Expos found an autographed ball from McGwire in one of their shoes. When Kline was a teammate of McGwire’s with St. Louis, McGwire would leave a signed and dated cleat after each game in which he homered in the locker of that game’s winning Cardinals pitcher.
(The first time it happened to Kline, he thought somebody left their shoe in his locker by mistake. So he threw it out before a clubhouse attendant could alert him.)
Bonds was on the edge of history on that 2007 day in which Kline did the interview, yet not only had Kline not asked Bonds for a memento, he seemed not the slightest bit interested. “Barry’s not here to be wild and crazy,” Kline said evenly. “Barry’s here to hit balls. That’s his job. He does his job.”
Turns out nothing was as it seemed with McGwire and Bonds, but the level of vitriol and flat-out hatred for Rodriguez (who is playing amid appeal of a 211-game doping suspension) seems to surpass all. “I love the game of baseball,” Rodriguez said Tuesday, when he was asked whether the verbal cease-and-desist order that he delivered his legal representatives had quelled a public feud with the Yankees and made it easier to focus on the game. “There’s a lot of great stories … and for us, we need 100 per-cent of our focus and attention on the game of baseball.”
Girardi is right about one thing: 650 is just a number, less sexy than 700 or 600 for that matter. But it serves as a reminder of the damage A-Rod has done to the game.
You thought Bonds was detested? At least he could find shelter when he was playing at home. Fans held their nose almost out of a sense of pride, while Giants ownership gleefully marked down the passing of each day as being one full house closer to Bonds’s retirement.
In New York, ownership wants Rodriguez out of the game. Yesterday.
Thank goodness for what appears to be a desperate Yankees playoff push, lest Rodriguez’s presence detract from what should be a properly respectful, final month of closer Mariano Rivera’s career.
Right now, New York, and in some ways baseball, needs the hope of a postseason berth in the Bronx more than the berth itself.
Ideally, Rodriguez and the Yankees stay in it, but come up short. At which point, the game figures out how to make its suspension stick and keep him away for a long time.