Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez are linked, intrinsically, in many ways.
Both men wear the stain of performance-enhancing-drug allegations. Both have become unwilling standard-bearers for the steroid era. And both have etched their names in the record books with eye-popping home run totals that are literally impossible to believe.
Bonds is the reigning home run king, the colossus of controversial clout. He stands alone atop baseball's all-time list with 762 big flies.
But Rodriguez is within shouting distance. With 10 home runs this year, he's got 664 for his career, good (if that's the word) for fourth all-time.
Next up is Babe Ruth with 714, then Hank Aaron with 755 and, finally, Bonds.
There are reasons to doubt A-Rod will mount a serious challenge. He turns 40 in July, and he hasn't eclipsed the 20-home-run plateau since 2010.
On the other hand, Rodriguez has already exceeded expectations after his yearlong suspension.
If he maintains his current pace, he'd finish this season with 42 home runs, tripling the modest total of 14 projected by ZiPS, per FanGraphs.
Let's split the difference, roughly, and say he ends up with 25 on the season. Then, let's go even further and say he averages that same total for the final two years of his Yankees contract, which expires after the 2017 campaign.
Under that rather optimistic scenario, Rodriguez would hit free agency with 729 career home runs. There would be a temptation, if his body allows, to delay retirement and chase immortality.
While the two were working out together this offseason, A-Rod told Bonds he wanted the record, according to Bonds.
"He was funny," Bonds said in February, per John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. "He said, 'I want to take your record.' I said, 'That's OK. If that's what you want to do, we've got a lot of work to do.' I was excited he wanted to do it."
When it comes to Rodriguez's assault on baseball history, excitement might be an emotion reserved exclusively for Bonds and A-Rod himself.
Yankees fans dutifully cheered when their polarizing slugger passed Bonds' godfather, Willie Mays, on the all-time list. But surely many in the Bronx will be glad when Rodriguez sheds the pinstripes, freeing the team from the stigma and distractions he carries.
The organization certainly hasn't lined up behind its fallen star. New York is likely to do battle with the players union for refusing to pay A-Rod's $6 million milestone bonus for home run No. 661, per KFOR.com.
Around the league, opinions of Rodriguez waver between indifference and disdain. He's greeted with hearty boos everywhere outside Yankee Stadium. And in April, 59 percent of players polled by ESPN The Magazine answered either "no" or "I don't care" when asked if they were happy A-Rod was returning from his PED banishment.
All of that is to say: If Rodriguez packs up his bats and goes home at the end of his current contract, few would shed a tear.
That raises another, murkier question: Is it possible team owners and MLB higher-ups might actually collude to make sure A-Rod doesn't ink another deal?
That's a bold accusation, even in theory. It's also one that Bonds has already leveled.
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Bonds is working with the players union on a grievance against MLB, claiming, in essence, that he was blacklisted after the 2007 season, when the San Francisco Giants opted not to re-sign him.
Here's more from Heyman:
Bonds has told folks since he left the game he believes there was a concerted effort to keep him out of the game by baseball powers, though he sought to wait to go ahead with his case until his legal issues related to BALCO were resolved. Last month, a U.S. Court of Appeals reversed his 2011 felony conviction for obstruction of justice related to grand jury testimony in 2003, fully clearing him in the case. Sources say he is now planning to move ahead with the case against MLB.
Bonds has said he received no offers to play after the '07 season, when he set the all-time mark, hitting 28 home runs for the [Giants] while leading the National League with a .480 on-base percentage and 1.045 OPS. Bonds at the time suggested he'd play for the minimum if an offer was forthcoming, but none apparently ever came.
Collusion is a weighty charge; it'll be interesting to see what, if any, evidence Bonds produces.
At the very least, it seems clear that potential suitors decided Bonds' baseball contributions weren't worth the distractions off the field.
To pick one example: In 2008, Jose Vidro started 70 games at designated hitter for the Seattle Mariners and posted an anemic .235/.273/.346 slash line with seven home runs.
Even at age 44, it's a safe bet Bonds would have obliterated those numbers. And if he really would've played for the league minimum, he'd have been a lot cheaper than Vidro, who made $8.5 million in what would be his final big league season, per Baseball-Reference.
There's nothing wrong with an owner or general manager looking at a free agent, assessing the pros and cons—including personality and clubhouse chemistry—and taking a pass. It happens all the time.
But if all 30 clubs and the league get together to freeze an otherwise-eligible player out because they don't like him or don't want him associated with the game, that's a stickier wicket.
Did it happen with Bonds? Could it happen with A-Rod?
Those are open questions, and we may never get satisfying answers to either, although it'll be fascinating to follow both sagas as they unfold and, possibly, intertwine.
Bonds and A-Rod are linked, alright, in one way more than any other: They're living reminders of baseball's shadowy, not-so-distant past. And they're hanging around, like it or not.
All statistics current as of May 17 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.