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Dingers and Dollars

Alex “A-Rod” Rodriquez finally hit his 600th career home run the other day, going 9 for 46 after dinger number 599.

A-Rod now joins Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey (630) and Sammy Sosa (609) with 600 or more homers. The all-time leader, Bonds, and Sosa are tainted with the smear of steroids.

Rodriquez, at age 35, is the youngest player ever to reach 600 homers, although Babe Ruth did it in 183 less games, or more than an entire season sooner than Rodriquez.
The biggest difference between A-Rod and the Bambino isn’t the number of games played, but the chemical enhancements used to reach the milestone. In Ruth’s day there was no such thing as HGH or testosterone supplements. Nothing could be injected into a player to increase his muscle mass. Steroids simply didn’t exist.

If it seems unfair to put Bonds and Sosa under a cloud since they haven’t been found guilty of anything in a court of law, let me point out some very plain and powerful facts about baseball, players and age. It is a simple principle that as a player ages his productivity deteriorates. In other words, “you can’t fool Mother Nature.”

Between the ages of 25 and 35 (the prime of a position player’s career) Barry Bonds averaged 37 home runs a season. Between the ages of 36 to 39 (what should be normally declining years) he averaged 52 home runs a season – an increase of 41 percent.

In contrast to Bonds, Ruth averaged 47 homers between the ages of 25 to 35 and just 36 a year between the age of 36 and 39 – a 23% decrease. Frank Robinson’s average of 31 homers a year dropped to just 20 per season. Reggie Jackson dropped from 30 to 26. Willie Mays dropped from a robust 39 to a paltry 22. Mike Schmidt (37 to 22), Harmon Killebrew (39 to 14), Frank Thomas (32 to 24) and Willie McCovey (32 to 20) all experienced similar age-related drops in performance. And these are some of the greatest home run hitters of all time – and all of them played prior to the proliferation of steroids.

It is just the sad truth that the party doesn’t go on forever. The greats come and they go. All of them get old and leave the game that they once contributed to so mightily during their youth.

Players simply don’t get better with age.

Rodriquez has some significant dollar milestones written into his contract. As part of his $275 million, 10-year deal signed after the 2007 season, Rodriguez can earn up to $30 million more for six milestone homers. The first would be tying Willie Mays. He'd get $6 million more each time for matching Ruth, Aaron and Bonds and breaking the record.

A-Rod is 162 homers behind Bonds. With his ailing hip and the fact that there is such tight scrutiny now on players and drugs, it doesn’t seem likely that Rodriquez will reach Bonds’ total.

A-Rod has averaged just 32 homers each of the last two seasons. At that rate it will take him a little more than five more years to reach Bonds. And that is assuming that he can maintain a 32 homer rate per year during his declining years. It is more likely that if he is able to catch Bonds, it will be with another team other than the Yankees who aren’t about to let a 40 year old player with diminished skills occupy a key roster spot.

With respect to Sammy Sosa, it just isn’t logical to assume that he didn’t cheat. Between the years of 1900 and 1990, just two players, Ruth and Roger Maris, hit 60 or more homers in a season. Between the 1998 and 2001 seasons, Sosa broke the old mark of 61 three times and averaged 61 homers a season. That is simply statistically impossible.

Sosa’s four year romp would be like a single pitcher throwing a perfect game in each season, or a batter hitting in 57 straight games each year. It just doesn’t happen because of the great difficulty involved.

1 comment:

  1. That was a great discussion. Arod doesn't deserve to break the record either and like you said I don't think he will either. I actually would rather have Bonds have the record anyways because he was a better hitter to begin with, and he does have a true appreciation for the game which nobody can deny him of. Of course he treated the game with disrespect by cheating but I feel like he loves it with all his soul and deep down has a respect for the greats of the game where as Arod I don't think loves the game half as much and is more about money.


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