Losing Sight of Natural History: Alex Rodriguez Will Not Reach 763
Alex Rodriguez became the youngest player in Major League history to reach 400 home runs in 2005.
He also became the youngest player in Major League history to hit 500 home runs in 2007.
One of these days when he stops over-thinking everything (Yankees fans, have you heard this tune before?) he will become the youngest player to hit 600 home runs in 2010.
He will be lucky to hit 700 home runs and I would bet the house against him reaching Bonds' record of 763, because history shows he simply will not play long enough at a high enough level to hit 164 more home runs in his career.
When one divides the total of 164 home runs needed to reach 763 by 30, the average total of homers many expect Rodriguez to hit each season going forward, it equates to 5.47 total seasons before Rodriguez will reach 763. In other words, given that pace, Rodriguez would break the record by the end of the 2015 season.
By that math, Rodriguez will be 40 years old and still cranking out 30 home run seasons when it becomes time to celebrate another shaky historical record. The Yankees must have faith that Rodriguez will keep to that pace, seeing as the team has A-Rod under contract through 2017 when the third baseman will be 42.
The Steroid Era is over in baseball, we assume, but there exists an angle to this story that no one mentions, and perhaps no one realizes.
For the one and only time in their history -hyperbole alert- the Yankees got jobbed by the system in 2007. That monstrosity of a contract, 10 years, $275 million, was given to Rodriguez when the common thought was that players were expected to perform at close to peak levels into their 40's.
Thus, we have found what is perhaps the last ugly strain of the Steroid Era.
Five years ago, Rodriguez breaking the home run record seemed like a foregone conclusion because looking around Major League Baseball, more and more players were playing well into their 40's and having success. The common stance on Rodriguez was that he would hit 800 home runs in his career because of the pace he was on and the propensity for players to play for longer periods of time.
Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth at age 40 and played until he was 42.
Pete Rose broke the all-time hits record at 44 and played until he was 45.
Nolan Ryan broke the career strikeout record when he was 36 (a young pup!) and he played until he was 46.
These players in short broke records because for their generation, they were nothing short of genetic freaks. For each one of the players listed above, there were ten exceptionally talented stars who couldn't keep up with the record-setting pace because their bodies slowed down as they reached their mid-thirties, the normal time and place for athletes to lose a step, if not more.
See Willie Mays. At age 35, Mays had accumulated 542 career home runs (right around the same number Rodriguez would be at currently had he not used PED's in Texas), an average of just over 36 for each of his 15 seasons.
Given that pace, Mays should have broken Ruth's home run record and reached 715 by the time he was 40. Even if he had slowed down slightly to an average of 30 per year, he would have reached 715 only one year later at age 41.
Instead, the wheels came off Mays' career after he turned 35 in 1966. He hit 22, 23, 13, 28, 18, 8, 0, 8, and 6 home runs in the years following 1966, finishing with a total of 660 home runs. An amazing number for sure, but if Mays had been the genetic freak that Aaron turned out to be, Hammerin' Hank would have been chasing a record held by someone other than Babe Ruth.
We as modern followers of baseball have mistakenly come to the conclusion that all players today can endure 20-plus seasons of wear and tear due to the advancements in medicine and workout routines.
What we have forgotten is that it is unnatural for players to play at a high level up until and after they reach 40 years old, and the production of players at advanced ages during the 2000's had a lot more to do with steroids than anything else.
Performance-enhancing drugs clouded the fact that without the aid of those substances, only generational freaks like Jamie Moyer are meant to, and do, last so long. Rodriguez's recent history suggests he will be lucky to be playing when he's 40, let alone hitting 30 home runs each year until then.
Rodriguez's hip injury has clearly slowed him down, and there is no evidence to show that at age 35 he will be able to avoid both further injuries and the natural arc of a baseball player's career.
Instead, we should expect Rodriguez's career to fade like that of any typical great player, and he more likely than not will be holding on to the last flickers of a career rather than reeling in Barry Bonds' record by 2015.
This is not an attack on Rodriguez or his durability. We've all just lost sight of the fact that normal athletes cannot maintain peak performance when they're 40. Since Rodriguez has had injury trouble in recent years and he is no longer using Performance-enhancing drugs, breaking the home run record has become anything but a foregone conclusion.
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