When Bonds begins to fall, A-Rod's stock will rise
SAN FRANCISCO -- Now that the All-Star Game and Dmitri Young's hairdo are history, all attention will turn to Barry Bonds' home run quest and his closest pursuer -- and, no, I'm not talking about the feds, Sen. George Mitchell or Bonds' alleged former mistress, Kimberly Bell.
Like it or not, Bonds is going to catch and surpass Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs. He needs only five more dingers, which means the only thing that can stop him is an injury, a flaxseed overdose or Bud Selig stealing his bats.
The chase resumes Friday evening at this very same AT&T Park when Bonds' San Francisco Giants play the Los Angeles Dodgers. But an equally compelling pursuit begins on the opposite side of the country in, of all places, the baseball tomb known as Tropicana Field.
That's where Alex Rodriguez will be.
Rodriguez is Bonds, but without an asterisk and steroids controversy attached to his wristbands. At least, that's the hope.
Different positions (third base vs. left field), different sides of the plate (right vs. left), different ages (31 vs. 42), but same freakish home run power. And now they share a 2007 that could end with Bonds' breaking the all-time career home run record and maybe, just maybe, A-Rod doing the same to the all-time single-season dinger record, which, by the way, belongs to Bonds.
Bonds hit 73 homers in 2001. Rodriguez has 30 at the break, but anything is possible. A-Rod's 14-home run, 34-RBI April proved that much.
"His talent is unbelievable," said Bonds earlier this week, giving A-Rod the official Barry Seal of Approval. "I don't think people really appreciate his talent. It's unbelievable. His hand-eye coordination, his actual strength, his actual recognition of the ball. Those are things you can't teach. It's great because I know what he knows and I can see what he sees. I'm just older and can't do it as often."
The question isn't whether Rodriguez will pass Bonds in the home run speed lane, but when. As few as six seasons? Seven or eight, tops?
"I kind of feel shy talking about it because I hit 14 or 15 home runs in April and they said I was going to hit 140, so I disappointed there," Rodriguez said a day before the All-Star Game. "So the last thing, when you're 250, or 400 home runs away, or 300 -- whatever it is -- I think it's kind of ridiculous, but I take that as a compliment. But this is [Bonds'] time. The talk should be about him, not me."
The talk will be about Bonds as long as he hits home runs or, in Selig's best-case scenario, the feds come to the rescue. But eventually Rodriguez will overtake Bonds in national attention and, of course, home runs. It's inevitable.
Rodriguez already has 494 career homers. Six more and he becomes the youngest player to reach 500. But beyond that, A-Rod plays in New York, the center of the universe. He plays for George Steinbrenner's Yankees. He plays for more salary than any other player earns in MLB, the NBA, the NFL or the NHL. He is a living, breathing headline. And I'm not even counting the stripper thing or the back of his wife's tank top.
In many ways, A-Rod is simply more interesting than Bonds. We know what Bonds is going to do. He's going to break Aaron's record, then disappear in a year or two, depending on his health and his lawyers.
Rodriguez is just now beginning the serious march toward baseball immortality. Of course, let's hope he doesn't do any more marching in those white cleats he wore Tuesday night. They looked like a borrowed pair of golf shoes.
Will he opt out of the remaining three years and $81 million left on his landmark contract after this season? Will he waive his no-trade clause and let the Yankees deal him if the team goes into a post-break free fall (New York is 10 games behind the Boston Red Sox and 42-43 overall)? Will he get thrown out at home by 15 feet in future All-Star Games?
"Nothing comes easy," he said. "New York's not just going to hand you the reins without you earning it. I still got work to do. I'm enjoying the work, but one thing, through good and bad, I never sat here and complained and cried and wanted out. I had many opportunities where I could have gone many places, and I constantly told the team, the city, [the media] that I wanted to stay. And I stick by that."
He does for now. Or until his agent Scott Boras, who was sitting directly behind home plate at AT&T Park, comes up with a better scenario (the Los Angeles Angels?).
"Sometimes it takes people a year, takes people two years to get used to New York," Rodriguez said. "For me, it's taken three, four years. You try things one way and then figure out this way is a little bit more comfortable. It hasn't been easy. I've struggled. I've struggled with [the media]. I've struggled in the field. But I'm in a good place right now."
The Yankees aren't. They're in third place in the AL East and tied for fifth place in the wild-card standings, 8½ games behind the Cleveland Indians. But they won five of their last seven before the break and did it against the Minnesota Twins and the Angels.
Rodriguez is saying all the right things, but if the Yankees go into the dumper, who knows?
"I'm worried about the second half of the season," he said. "That's enough. Anyone whose thought is not on the second half of the season, you got to question where your motive is. All I'm worried about is to get to .500 and go from there."
But here's an interesting thought: A-Rod leaves New York and Bonds, who is a free agent at season's end, comes to the Bronx.
"I think New York would love Barry Bonds," said Rodriguez, adding later, "He might have 800 [home runs] already if he was at a place like ours for lefties. Seriously."
But would A-Rod love Bonds as a Yankees teammate?
"Uhhhh we've been teammates already," Rodriguez said diplomatically. "Japan [All-Star tour]."
So much for the teammates scenario.
Rodriguez and Bonds will never share pinstripes, but one day they'll share the all-time home run record.
But not for long.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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