Six years ago today, San Francisco Giants villain, or in some circles, Barry Bonds, blasted the 756th home run of his unparallelled career. With that shot, Bonds surpassed Henry Aaron as the all-time home run king.
Tonight in Chicago, Alex Rodriguez will play his third and final game of the 2013 season before his 211-game suspension comes to fruition. Of course, he'll likely play through August and September due to the intricacies of the appeals process in Major League Baseball's joint drug agreement.
Although a possible long-term suspension, age and multiple hip surgeries have seemingly taken Rodriguez out of the chase and well off the pace of catching Aaron or Bonds atop the home run list, the symmetry between Bonds of 2007 and Rodriguez of 2013 is difficult to ignore.
Not only did Bonds pass along the title of most gifted and dynamic baseball player on the planet (apologies to peak level Albert Pujols, who never profiled as the base stealer or defender like the young versions of Rodriguez and Bonds) to A-Rod, he also handed the torch of ultimate villain and hated superstar.
Due to the level of coverage and vitriol, especially from current players, toward the Steroid Era and PED use in today's game, A-Rod has zero allies outside of the obligations of the MLBPA. Despite having friends on the Yankees 25-man roster, Rodriguez is literally on an island. If you defend his antics or stature among the greats of all-time, it's likely because the narratives have become so ridiculous and outlandish that some must stand up for the guy.
During Bonds' heyday, he was reviled, but carried a dislike with him from his early days. The steroid allegations and rise to 73-homer monster just intensified the hatred fans always felt toward the mercurial and standoffish athlete.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez was once beloved. If there was a magazine that covered sports, it's likely the Rodriguez donned the cover during his early days in Seattle. With a million-watt smile, rifle arm and power bat, he was poised to rule the sport for years.
Of course, when he took the money in Texas, the narratives changed. By the time he landed in New York to join the Evil Empire, the casual baseball fan was done with Rodriguez as the savior of baseball. When the 2009 admission to past steroid use entered his career ledger, there was no going back for A-Rod outside of New York.
Now, due to the immense size and gravitas of the New York market on the national sports scene, Alex Rodriguez has become a bigger baseball villain than Barry Bonds.
Despite the hilarious before and after shots of Bonds non-steroid and steroid career, San Francisco fans loved him. He was their star, the free agent who chose them and stayed with them from 1993 through the end of his amazing career. He took them to the World Series in 2002, compiled one of the most impressive careers in baseball history and gave the Giants a face for their franchise. Outside of the bubble of San Fran, Bonds was a pariah, but every blast into the bay made ingrained him more into the Giants culture.
In New York, Rodriguez never achieved that gravitas. He was tolerated by Yankees fans, even defended and cheered during the MVP campaigns of 2005 and 2007. Despite his steroid admission in 2009, his postseason made him the toast of the town for a fleeting moment.
As the baseball world has endured the ebbs and flows of A-Rod, New York has now turned their back for good. Unlike Bonds, who deserved another contract in 2008 and run at 800 career home runs, A-Rod's days as an above-average player might be over. He's simply not worth the headache anymore.
Which former all-time great is hated more?
Throw in media coverage, disingenuous press conferences and a national fall from grace that Bonds, through his own personality quirks, never had to endure, and it adds up to Rodriguez as the most hated player in recent baseball history.
During the BALCO era and Game of Shadows release, it was impossible to think that baseball fans would ever have a villain surpass Bonds on the hatred scale.
Well, folks, Alex Rodriguez, much like becoming the most prolific home run hitting infielder in the history of the game, has surpassed all expectations once again.
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