- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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This story originally aired on Tuesday's SportsCenter.
Barry Bonds needs 52 homers to tie Henry Aaron's record and for a player who slammed 73 homers a few summers ago, that might sound like work that can be done in a few months.
But Bonds will be 41 years old this summer, and although he had arguably one of the greatest offensive seasons in history last year, he already has reached an age of precipitous decline for baseball's other great sluggers. Battling knee problems -- not to mention the unprecedented off-field legal distractions and steroid focus -- it's not a sure thing that Bonds will actually reach Aaron's mark.
When Frank Robinson was 38 years old, he slammed 22 homers and at that point, he needed only 26 to reach 600. But Robinson managed just nine the next year, and three in 1976 before retiring as an active player.
Willie Mays batted .291 when he was 39 years old, slugging 28 homers for the San Francisco Giants and pulling into range of 700 homers for his career. But at age 40, Mays hit 18. At age 41, he had eight homers, and in his final season, in 1973, Mays hit six homers.
Babe Ruth was still one of the game's best hitters when he was 38 years old, bashing 34 homers in 1933. But at age 39, Ruth played his last season for the Yankees and managed 22 homers. The next season was his last, and at age 40, the great Ruth hit six homers.
Aaron made a hard charge at Ruth in the summer of 1973, when Aaron was 39 years old, slugging 40 homers and finishing the year with 713 career homers. Aaron broke Ruth's mark early the next season, but his home run production was cut in half in his 40th summer; he hit 20 homers. At age 41, Aaron hit just 12 homers, and in his last season, at 42, he hit 10 homers.
Bonds has 703 in his career. As he's sidelined with a bad knee, 755 might seem like a long way off.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.