Archive for August 5th, 2010

The historical coincidences surrounding Alex Rodriguez’ 600th homerun have truly been remarkable. However, the most fitting connection to the past was not the date of the homerun, but its landing spot at the base of Babe Ruth’s memorial in Monument Park.

Long live the King. For many, Babe Ruth remains the undisputed Sultan of Swat.

Not only did Alex Rodriguez join the Babe as the only other player to reach the milestone as a Yankee, but he also surpassed him to become the youngest player to belt 600 homeruns. That’s what happens when you spend the first five years of your career as a top flight pitcher!

Although the Babe could definitely relate to the accomplishment, chances are he wouldn’t recognize all of the attention surrounding the moment. After all, when the Babe hit 600, no one else had even reached the 300 plateau. So, it’s not surprising that the moment passed with little fanfare, even during a period when just about everything Ruth did was chronicled to great fervor.


He likes to hit them, of course, as much as any ball player, and perhaps more, because homers in large quantities are the principal reasons for the Babe’s big salary checks. But for a man who holds nearly every known record for hitting homers, one four base hit is not much cause for excitement” – Hugh S. Fullerton, AP Sportswriter writing about Babe Ruth’s 600th homerun

There were headlines, for sure, but no one seemed to place too much importance on the blast, which came in St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park against the Browns’ George Blaeholder.  In fact, more attention was paid to Ruth’s single season homerun battle with teammate Lou Gehrig (the milestone homerun was Ruth’s 35th of the season, and moments after he hit it, Gehrig followed with his 34th), as well as the six-man batting race that saw the Athletics’ Al Simmons just ahead of the Babe.

Major League Leaders, As of August 21, 1931

Player Team HR   Player Team BA
Babe Ruth Yankees 35   Al Simmons Athletics 0.385
Lou Gehrig Yankees 34   Babe Ruth Yankees 0.375
Chuck Klein Phillies 29 . Spud Davis Phillies 0.354
Earl Averill Indians 27   Ed Morgan Indians 0.352
Mel Ott Giants 23   Bill Terry Giants 0.346
Jimmie Foxx Athletics 21   Chuck Klein Phillies 0.344

Source: Associated Press, August 22, 1931

Even though the public and media seemed to be preoccupied by the Babe’s other exploits, the moment was not lost on the man himself. In a rare gesture for the time, Ruth reportedly located the youngster who retrieved the ball, which was hit over the bleachers and onto Grand Boulevard, and gave him $10 along with an autographed ball in exchange for the memento. Young Tony Gallico probably never imagined how much that autographed ball would someday be worth, but the $10 (which during the Great Depression was about the average weekly salary of those lucky enough to have a job) probably sure came in handy.

In one final bow to the past, Alex Rodriguez’ 600th home run ball was retrieved by Stadium security guard Frankie Babilonia, who scooped up the trophy from underneath the netting just in front of Babe Ruth’s moment. Despite being required to turn over the souvenir, Babilonia was presented with a bat autographed by Alex Rodriguez. Apparently, the worth of a milestone has gone down. Either that or someone owes Mr. Babilonia ten dollars.

HR Leader Board After 1931 Season

Player HR PA
Babe Ruth 611 8890
Rogers Hornsby 295 9170
Cy Williams 251 7720
Lou Gehrig 233 4762
Hack Wilson 206 4369
Ken Williams 196 5616
Harry Heilmann 183 8929
Al Simmons 173 4752
Jim Bottomley 170 5669
Goose Goslin 169 6275

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Arod holds up the ball he hit over the centerfield fence for milestone HR 600 (Photo: Getty Images).

In one of those charming coincidences that seem to happen so often in baseball, Alex Rodriguez connected on his 600th homerun almost three years to the hour that he belted number 500 back in 2007 against the Royals. In both games, Arod’s milestone blast came in the first inning of a 1:05PM start, so the depth of the coincidence is almost bordering on eerie.

Although the symmetry of the dates is an interesting novelty, the fact of the matter is the Arod who belted 600 is a far cry from the one who rounded the bases after 500. When Rodriguez belted that earlier milestone on August 4, 2007, it was the same day Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron atop the all-time homerun list at 755 (another coincidence). Even before Bonds caught and eventually passed Aaron, all eyes had already turned to Arod as a potential knight in shining armor who might one day rescue the sacred homerun title away from the dirty hands of Bonds. Despite often being perceived as disingenuous, arrogant and too self aware, Arod was always thought to be clean, and therefore a worthy successor to Aaron. That all changed, however, in the winter of 2009 when Alex Rodriguez admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs during his tenure in Texas.

Admitting to the use of steroids hasn’t been the only obstacle that Arod has had to overcome since 500. Other bumps along the road have included: his performance against the Indians in the 2007 ALDS, which intensified the perception of not being clutch; the opt-out fiasco during the 2007 World Series, which further portrayed him as selfish; the publication of Joe Torre’s book, which painted an unflattering picture of his status in the clubhouse; and his first major injury, a hip surgery that cost him two months of the 2009 season and has seemed to limit him at times since then. In many ways, it has been a long road, which makes any thought of passing Barry Bond’s total of 762 seem to be just a little premature.

So much has changed for me. My place in the clubhouse, that’s the number one thing that has changed. My relationship with my teammates, the way I try to go about my business, especially the last two years. We’re about winning, we’re about checking your ego at the door and doing the little things to try to win games. For me, the perspective of hitting 600 home runs, it feels really good, but when you win a World Series – which is what I worked my whole life for – no personal achievement can compare to celebrating on the mound and being the last team standing.” – Alex Rodriguez, quoted in the August 5, 2010 edition of the Daily News

When the Yankees and Arod agreed to a 10-year contract extension after the 2007 season, the pursuit of the homerun record was an integral part. In fact, for every player Arod passes along the way, beginning with Willie Mays, he will receive a $6 million bonus. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ hope is that they will be able to market the chase, and attract increased revenue as a result of the surrounding interest. At the time of Arod’s admission, many had opined that the Yankees’ plans had gone up in smoke, but if the pursuit of 600 proved one thing rather clear, people still care. Now, the question is when, and if, will he reach 763?

Seven years remain on Arod’s contract, so if he is able to remain relatively healthy during that span, a season average of about 25 HRs (his current season pace) would be enough to make history. Arod’s health will definitely be a factor, but his biggest challenge will be not allowing the chase to consume him. Just like the Giants became a sideshow to Barry Bond’s pursuit of Aaron, the Yankees and Arod need to make sure winning takes precedence over all individual accomplishments. That may have been difficult for the old Arod, but every indication seems to suggest that new and improved Alex Rodriguez is really all about team first.

So, as 600 fades into the background, you can bet Rodriguez is looking forward to doing the same. The spotlight will always manage to find him, but at least now, it seems to happen when he lets his bat do the talking. The Yankees hope it continues to make noise over the next seven years.

Day of Milestones – Other major accomplishments recorded on August 4

  • August 4, 1985 – Tom Seaver records his 300th win with a victory over the Yankees. Seaver accomplished the feat as a member of the White Sox.
  • August 4, 1985 – The California Angels’ Rod Carew slaps an opposite field single to left to become the 14 man to record 3,000 hits. Carew’s milestone came against the Twins, the team with which he started his career.
  • August 4, 2007 – Alex Rodriguez belts his 500th career homerun against the Royals’ Kyle Davies.
  • August 4, 2007 – Barry Bonds ties Hank Aaron for most homeruns in major league history. Bonds hit number 755 against Clay Hensley of the Padres.

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