Alex Rodriguez's 2017 Retirement Would Keep Barry Bonds Atop Home Run Throne

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2016

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez warms up before a spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Two more seasons. That's how much time remains in the Alex Rodriguez Era—probably. And yes, it deserves a capital "E."

We learned A-Rod's possible expiration date Wednesday, when the polarizing New York Yankees slugger told ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand that he plans to hang 'em up when his current contract expires after the 2017 campaign. 

"I've really enjoyed my time," Rodriguez told Marchand. "For me, it is time for me to go home and be dad."

Soon after, A-Rod hedged a bit. "I'm thinking in terms of my contract which ends in 2017," he wrote in a text message, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. "After that, we'll see what happens. I've got two years and more than 300 games to play."

Assuming he does retire after 2017, there will be ample opportunities to dissect Rodriguez's legacy. There will be retrospectives, hit pieces and undoubtedly some unapologetic apologists. Whatever your feelings on A-Rod—outrage, adulation, indifference—there's no denying he is one of the most talented, fascinating, enigmatic players of his generation.

As we chew on the notion of Major League Baseball minus one of its biggest modern figures, let's narrow our focus to Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and the all-time home run record.

Bonds, of course, reigns alone atop dinger mountain with 762 career bombs. Hank Aaron owns the No. 2 slotand a place in the hearts of baseball purists—with 755. After that, it's Babe Ruth with 714 and A-Rod with 687 and counting.

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Back in February 2015, Rodriguez apparently told Bonds he had visions of taking over the top spot. 

Last February, Bonds said he was "excited" that A-Rod wanted to break his record.
Last February, Bonds said he was "excited" that A-Rod wanted to break his record.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

"He was funny," Bonds said at the time, after spending a few days working out with Rodriguez in the Bay Area, per the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea. "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."

At the time, it seemed far-fetched. Rodriguez was coming off a season-long performance-enhancing drug suspension. He was just shy of his 40th birthday. And he hadn't hit more than 18 home runs in a season since 2010.

Say what you will about A-Rod, but he has built a legacy on defying expectations.

And so in 2015, he launched 33 long balls, his highest total since 2008. And, suddenly, the record seemed like a faint possibility rather than a fantasy. If A-Rod could find a team after 2017, maybe he could toil into his mid-40s and replace Bonds' tally with another equally controversial number. 

Now, assuming Rodriguez doesn't change his mind, Bonds' mark is almost surely safe, as USA Today's Bob Nightengale opined:

Bob Nightengale @BNightengale

Now that A-Rod is making it official that 2017 is it, Barry Bonds' home run record is assured of standing for quite awhile.

Heading into the 2016 campaign, 75 home runs separate the two men. That means A-Rod would have to average 38 bombs over the next two seasons to overtake Bonds. As impressive as his 2015 comeback was, that isn't happening unless someone bends the laws of physics or vaporizes three-quarters of the planet's pitchers. 

The various projection systems predict Rodriguez will tally between 19 and 25 homers this coming season, per FanGraphs. Let's split the difference and say 22. Then let's say he hits that many again in 2017. Hey, it's possible.

That would put him at 731, 24 behind Aaron and 31 behind Bonds. So close, and yet so far.

Which brings us back to the question of whether Rodriguez might change his mind. Does he care so little about his place in history—has the criticism and PED finger-wagging so jaded him—that he wouldn't at least see if some AL club wanted a part-time designated hitter with a ton of baggage and a little fuel in the tank?

To pass Bonds by the end of 2017, Rodriguez would have to average 38 home runs a season.
To pass Bonds by the end of 2017, Rodriguez would have to average 38 home runs a season.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Maybe that's why he backtracked so quickly after the announcement broke. Maybe there's a little fire left burning in his belly. But if the retirement talk is for real, it feels like a white flag. A surrender to the hostile opposing fans and media talking heads who would relentlessly hound Rodriguez the closer he got to the record.

Barring an unbelievable power surge or a decision to play on, he won't have to answer those questions or hear those boos. Yes, there will be some grumbling if and when he passes Ruth. But it'll be nothing like the yowling that would commence as he crept closer to 763.

Make no mistake, Rodriguez has many impressive milestones under his belt. He's surpassed 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBI. He's made 14 All-Star teams and won a trio of American League MVP Awards. If not for the steroid stain, he'd be a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Breaking Bonds' record wouldn't help A-Rod's legacy. To the contrary, it'd put a bigger target on his back, just as it did for Bonds.

So maybe the two-year retirement is the smart play. Steer clear of that hornet's nest. Slip into the sunset before the old wounds of the steroid era are re-opened, records be damned. 

When Bonds played his final game for the San Francisco Giants in 2007, the team played a video highlight reel on the scoreboard, accompanied by the Frank Sinatra song "My Way." Rodriguez is still two years away from any similar tribute, if the Yankees deign to give him one, but those lyrics seem appropriate right now:

"For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught

To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way..."

Soon enough, the Alex Rodriguez Era will be over. Maybe in two years, maybe not. But soon enough. Bonds will likely remain the home run king. And we'll all be left to decide how we feel about that.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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