Now that A-Rod has 600, does he matter as much?

Aug 4th, 2010 | By sportsnews | Category: Sports

NEW YORK — For two weeks, there was anticipation with every at-bat.

Players stayed in the dugout. Fans stayed in their seats.

Flashbulbs flashed. Fans cheered. For the first time in years, it felt like half the people at Yankee Stadium were wearing T-shirts or jerseys with Alex Rodriguez’s name or number on them.

For two weeks, A-Rod mattered the way the highest-paid player in the game should matter.

It’s kind of funny that he mattered more as long as he didn’t hit a home run, but really, that’s the way it was.

Now what?

Now that 600 is behind him — and behind us — will we care about A-Rod at-bats the way we did over the last two weeks? Now that A-Rod is free to start “focusing on baseball,” as he put it after Wednesday’s milestone homer off Toronto’s Shaun Marcum, will we still want to focus on the one player in baseball who has bonuses for home run milestones built into his contract?

A-Rod talks often about how much more comfortable he is now than he was three years ago, when he hit his 500th home run (strangely, also on Aug. 4). He said again Wednesday that he’s “at peace with my game,” contrasting that to where he was in 2007 and before.

Fair enough, but there’s just as big a contrast in what his game is.

Three years ago, Rodriguez was on his way to 54 home runs, the most in the majors. He was on his way to his third Most Valuable Player award in five years.

He was, without doubt, an elite home-run hitter. He was, without doubt, one of the two or three best players in the game.

His 500th home run was his 36th of the season. Three years later, to the day, his 600th home run was his 17th of 2010.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 39 major-league players with more home runs than A-Rod had his season. There was one, Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, who had more than twice as many.

Until these past two weeks, A-Rod’s at-bats weren’t must-see, in the way that an Albert Pujols at-bat is, in the way that a Miguel Cabrera at-bat has become, in the way that an A-Rod at-bat once was.

Does any of that matter? Perhaps not, but shouldn’t the game’s highest-paid player be someone that you never want to miss seeing?

Instead, we’re left wondering whether there’s still a big home-run streak left in him. We’re left wondering whether he’ll get to 700 simply because he got to 600 so early (the youngest player ever) and because his contract still has another seven-plus years to run.

And, of course, we’re left wondering how many of those 600 home runs were steroid-aided.

Unless Rodriguez’s body breaks down completely, he’s going to keep playing, and he’s going to keep accumulating home runs. Even at his current reduced pace, he’s going to pass Sammy Sosa (609) and Ken Griffey Jr. (630) and Willie Mays (660) and, likely, Babe Ruth (714).

Rodriguez said Wednesday that moving up on the list will mean more to him than passing round numbers like 600. He joked that the chase after Mays, Ruth, Hank Aaron (755) and eventually Barry Bonds (762) won’t be as tough as the chase for 600.

“As long as they don’t have a zero at the end, I think I’ll be OK,” he said.

The contract provides for $6 million bonuses when he catches Mays, Ruth and Aaron, and for another $6 million each for first catching and then passing Bonds.

But even if A-Rod gets to all those numbers, it’s fair to wonder what kind of player he’ll be when he gets there.

He’s still productive now, with a team-leading 87 RBI (second in the American League behind Cabrera, as of Wednesday afternoon). Yankees manager Joe Girardi mentioned the run production on Wednesday, when he said he just wants A-Rod to “do his job.”

That’s fine for Girardi, and it’s fine for a Yankees team that won the World Series last year and may well win it again this year.

But it’s not enough to make the rest of us focus on every at-bat from one of the greatest home run hitters of all time.

Even Wednesday, in the at-bat immediately after A-Rod hit his 600th, the buzz surrounding the chase already was missing. There was no long ovation and barely any recognition that the guy so many fans had come to see had accomplished something special.

It was as if the fans already had witnessed what they came to see, as if they cared a lot more about the history than about the guy who made it.

We do like our milestones, and our round numbers, and the Yankees and their fans like them as much as anyone. There was a big buildup when Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig for the all-time franchise hits record, and there will no doubt be a buildup when Jeter approaches 3,000 hits (as he should do next season).

And all those A-Rod home run milestones to come.

Will we care?

The evidence of the past two weeks suggests that we will. For all the talk about the lack of buzz generated by chase for 600, there was a definite buzz for every Rodriguez at-bat after 599.

There were fans wearing A-Rod shirts and there were fans holding A-Rod signs. When the lineups were announced each night, Rodriguez’s name drew bigger cheers than even Jeter’s.

Yes, it was an event, at least here. Yes, A-Rod’s at-bats these last couple of weeks have felt special.

They were must-see, every one of them, all 46 between 599 and 600.

For two weeks, we cared.

Will it take another milestone for us to care about him again?

Full Text RSS Feeds | Free Website Translator

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.