NEW YORK -- Dozens of flashbulbs greeted
Rodriguez had just become only the seventh player in baseball history to reach that milestone. Had it not been for a protective netting hanging just beyond the center field fence, the ball would have landed in Monument Park, the ballpark museum where plaques celebrate Yankees legends. At such a moment, it was natural to wonder if Rodriguez himself will ever go where his historic homer nearly did.
"We're happy for him," said Jeter, whose spot in Monument Park has long been secured. "Anytime you're talking about an accomplishment like this, not that many people have done it."
Rodriguez certainly took his time joining the exclusive 600 Club, needing almost two weeks and 47 at-bats after parking No. 599 on July 22 against the Royals. After failing again on Tuesday night, Rodriguez said he spoke with Jeter at some length, in which his teammate shared his similar experience in chasing and passing a significant number -- in Jeter's case,
It's hard to know how many others will. The public has quickly grown weary of tainted power numbers. Bonds' push past Aaron -- which came just four days after A-Rod hit his 500th in the summer of 2007 -- was greeted with rolled eyes and groans outside of San Francisco because it seemed to be a personal assault on a clean legend. When Rodriguez hit no. 500 exactly three years to the day before he reached 600, he was being looked at as the non-steroid tainted savior of the home run record, the one who would pry it away from BALCO Barry. Now, however, Rodriguez is just another disgraced power hitter of the Steroid Era, having been outed and subsequently confessed to using steroids between 2001 and 2003.
How much did steroids help Rodriguez? Even if all they did was increase his bat speed to catch up to balls he wouldn't otherwise have hit, it's fair to say he wouldn't be at 600 right now without them. It may also have added a few extra feet to his blasts, but A-Rod has never been a just-enough home-run hitter. Over the past five years, a period outside his confessed steroid use, he averaged 409 feet per home run. Even noted longball thief
"Whenever he hit a home run, I was watching," Hunter, the Angels' center fielder, said. "I was amazed with my mouth wide open like 'wow.' When he hit a home run, it wasn't a wall scraper. Balls he hit out of the park, don't worry about running after them."
Indeed, Rodriguez has always been more of a hitter with power than a true slugger. His swing is smooth and compact, yet explosive, making his power a little deceptive. Home runs are simply part of his overall game -- he's a .303 career hitter who has won a batting title -- and perhaps that's another reason for the lackluster reception for the milestone, not to mention that his power has noticeably diminished to just one home run every 24 at bats, his worst rate since 1997.
That scandal is the biggest reason for the diminished buzz as he approached 600. Another, more positive theory, is that this is a mere stepping stone along the way to bigger things.
"He's going to hit way more than 600," Yankees reliever
One more hypothesis is that Rodriguez's career has been split among three teams, and thus no one club's fans can claim him as their own. Even though he has played more games and hit more home runs with the Yankees than he did with either the Mariners or the Rangers, he'll never be lionized as a Yankee the same way that lifers like Jeter,
Perhaps most of all, the milestone din has been missing because with A-Rod, the show has never been about just what he does on the field. At various times in his career, there have been headlines about his contracts (he has signed the two biggest deals in baseball history), his social life (dating Hollywood actresses), his sportsmanship (slapping the ball out of
This season, too, Rodriguez has been a magnet for mishap and misfortune. He jogged across a mound occupied by A's starter
"I know how much Al just wants to get down to baseball and winning games and not being the talk," Girardi said Wednesday. "I'm happy for him.
Rodriguez spoke repeatedly in recent days about how he has changed, trying to be less the center of attention while focusing less on his own statistics and more on his team's accomplishments. On Wednesday, he admitted that in the past he has failed to back up his words with actions, saying "I didn't always walk the walk" and he mentioned how he'd like to be seen as just a baseball player.
That may not be possible for someone who spends so much time in the spotlight, even when he doesn't want to. But unlike other tainted sluggers such as Bonds,
Rodriguez's redemption story and journey to joining the Yankees greats in Monument Park cannot be simply about home runs. For now, this milestone is just a hollow number. Statistics alone are no longer convincing. His impact will have to come in other ways, such as his role in helping New York win last year's World Series. That's how he can change opinions about himself.