A-Rod must fight pressure to reach 762

Alex Rodriguez will certainly reach the 600-homer plateau, whether it’s tonight, tomorrow or next week. The real question is whether A-Rod can ultimately catch and pass Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader at 762?

The fact that A-Rod has gone 12 games, 46 at bats and 51 plate appearances since he hit 599 doesn’t auger well. It’s by far the longest drought of the six players who went before him. It took Willie Mays 22 at bats at 39 in 1970 to go from 599-600. It took Ken Griffey Jr. 18 at bats at 38 in 2008.  Bonds, Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Sammy Sosa (609) took less.

“The way I’m swinging now, it’s probably going to take a while — everybody get comfortable,” the Yankees third baseman said on Saturday night.

It goes without saying that the longer it takes now, the more grueling it’s going to be later. A-Rod just turned 35 and has seven years to go on his Yankees contract that ends in 2017 at 42. That means he’ll have to average about 23 homers a year between now and then to do it.

Bonds, the Giants slugger, was 43 and playing on surgically repaired knees when he passed Aaron on Aug. 7, 2007, at AT&T Park. It took him three days from the night he tied the record in San Diego to the night he broke it against the Nationals.

Bonds, who has was born on July 24, hit 195 of his homers during the seasons in which he turned 38 to 43. And that doesn’t count the 73 he hit in 2001. His last 40-homer year was 45 at 39 in 2004. He last played in 2007. 

Aaron hit 163 homers from the ages of 37-42. His last 40-homer season was at 39 for the Braves in 1973, the year before he broke Ruth’s record. He retired in 1976.

A-Rod may have already peaked. His last 40-homer  season was 54 the year he turned 32 in 2007. Since then he’s been on a steady decline: 35 in ’08, 30 in ’09 when he missed the first month because of hip surgery, and currently 16. He’ll need a barrage of homers the last two months of this season to  hit 30 again, a mark he’s either reached or surpassed every year since 1998.

The good news for Rodriguez is that he’ll need less homers at an advanced baseball age to break the all-time record than Aaron and Bonds did before him. The bad news is that he has a nagging hip injury that somewhere down the road ultimately may lead to more surgery.

“If he stays healthy enough, if he plays the game the way he always has,
he has a great shot at it,” Bonds said about A-Rod’s chances of passing
him. “He just needs to stay focused. There are a lot of reporters
around all the time. You’ve got to separate yourself from that. You want
to do well for your teammates on top of everything else that’s swirling
around. A home run, base hit, whatever. To win the game for your team
is the most important thing.”

On the field, this is what Bonds had to overcome: He missed the last six weeks of the 1994 season because of the strike, part of the ’99 season with an elbow injury, almost all of the ’05 season because of the knee injuries, and walked a record 2,558 times. Despite all that and a plethora of off-field pressures and problems, he broke the record.

As far as A-Rod is concerned, the health issue is the first caveat. Let’s add this second: He better learn to deal with the media attention and the accruing pressure or he’s certainly not going to make it. If it’s taking him this long to get to 600, when he gets to 762 he doesn’t realize what he’ll be facing.

 

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