Three months ago, Alex Rodriguez was toast. Even two months ago, he was profiled as nothing more than a distraction, a disgraced ballplayer that was a shell of his former self. Maybe he would come back and play a bit, but how could a 39-year-old with surgically repaired hips and more than a year of inactivity return to the highest level of baseball? It just didn't seem possible.
Suddenly, Rodriguez has gone back to a really good facsimile of what he used to be. As the best hitter in a surprise contender, he continues to silence his critics day after day, all while his public feud with the Yankees has incredibly turned him into a sympathetic figure at least, and a riveting storyline at best. He may get booed lustily on the road, but the home faithful in Yankee Stadium have embraced him to the degree that a good player in pinstripes tends to get.
A-Rod's unlikely comeback, which, by the way, may come to a close in a hurry, saw him tie Willie Mays' 660 career homeruns with a game-winning dinger at Fenway, and then hit 661 to propel the Yankees to a home win on May the 7th. While homerun totals have seemed to lose most of their value, and more so for a confirmed PED user like Rodriguez, it was still a career achievement and something that can't simply go unnoticed.
Even as the holy triumvirate of 660-714-755 may live on forever as the sacred standard for homerun totals, baseball prides itself on its numbers and history, and unless his totals are somehow stricken from the record, A-Rod will live on among the elite. It's hard to remember that he was once The Natural: a power-hitting shortstop with 5 tools, tons of talent, and unlimited potential. His numbers may be tarnished to a point, and he will have a hard time convincing the world that he deserves the Hall of Fame, but he will always be an outlier in the record books, both an example and a cautionary tile.
While it would the ultimate troll job for Rodriguez to go for 666 dingers and call it a career, the reality shows that with two extra years on his contract, he should be primed to challenge for 700 and remain an above-average hitter despite his age. Surpassing Mays got us to thinking just how improbable and unique Rodriguez's career has been to this point, especially his homerun totals over the years.
With this in mind, today we take a look at some of the most bizarre, interesting, and unique facts around A-Rod's 661 (and counting) homeruns since his arrival in the majors as a teenager in 1995. It has been quite a ride, to say the least.
A Very Long Peak
To even have a crack at any sort of counting-stat milestones (say 3,000 hits, 500 homers, etc.), tremendous consistency and health are a must. While most players tend to follow a predictable career arc that sees them peak by their late 20's and slowly decline after crossing 30, A-Rod's early peak came as he turned 20 and continued on for a very long time.
To wit, in a 16-year span that saw him turn from a 20-year-old skinny shortstop to a 35-year-old slugging third baseman, Rodriguez produced some really staggering numbers.
- 14 All-Star selections
- 3 MVP awards
- 10 Silver Sluggers
- 14 seasons with MVP votes
- 624 homers (41.6 per season)
- 1 World Series title
Browsing through A-Rod's career highlights, it is easy to see how he serves as one of the few remaining links between 90's baseball and what we have today. After all, he debuted during the strike season of 1994, before the Rays and Diamondbacks even existed, and with half of the league's current stadia not even built.
Odds are that Rodriguez hit a homer or two against most pitchers you remember from that era. So as we take a look at the chronology of how he built his impressive totals, here are the rivals he faced in certain milestones.
#1: Tom Gordon (6/12/95)
#100: Nerio Rodriguez (8/12/98)
#200: Jon Garland (5/12/01)
#300: Ramon Ortiz (4/02/03)
#400: Jorge de la Rosa (6/08/05)
#500: Kyle Davies (8/04/07)
#600: Shaun Marcum (8/04/10)
#661: Chris Tillman (5/07/15)
Overall, Rodriguez has hit homers off 401 different pitchers, with Tim Wakefield, Ramon Ortiz, David Wells, and Bartolo Colon serving as his favorite victims, with 8 dingers apiece.
The advent of Interleague play, expansion, and new stadiums gave players of this era the chance to produce in all types of places and build stats all around the country. This is why despite playing all of his career in the AL, A-Rod has been able to hit homers outside of his familiar confines.
So far, he's hit at least one dinger against 26 MLB teams, in 31 different ballparks, and produced 1,087 RBI with his 661 homers, good for 54.4% of his career total of 1,998. For comparison's sake, Barry Bonds hit homers against 28 different teams, in 36 stadiums, off a total of 449 pitchers, and had 58.8% of his career RBI's come from homeruns. In a very different era, Willie Mays could only get homers against the 12 NL teams, totaling 267 pitchers, 22 parks, and also had 54.4% of his RBI´s off homers.
Rodriguez has victimized the Angels franchise with 70 homers against them, followed by the Orioles with 63, and the Blue Jays with 57. Outside of the 5 stadiums he has called home throughout his career, his biggest total remains at Angel Stadium, where he has hit 38 balls over the fence.
Despite the advantage of playing most of his games at favorable home conditions, his career splits are mostly even, with 337 homers at home versus 324 on the road. Also, he has hit almost as many with the bases empty (351), as with at least 1 runner on base (310). His out distribution has also been strangely consistent, as Rodriguez has hit 218 homers with zero outs, 223 with one out, and 220 with two outs.
Even with his lofty totals, he can only boast of 9 walkoff dingers, though his 24 grand slams are the highest number of all time, even as he never hit more than 3 in a single season. Rodriguez can boast of 61 multi-homer games, with 4 of them producing 3 dingers. He hit 344 as a primary shortstop, and 287 as a third baseman, and only 30 as a DH. Fun fact: his 660th homer doubled as the first one he ever hit as a pinch-hitter.
He's hit 107 off the first pitch, and at least one from every spot in the lineup except for the #8 slot. Despite his reputation as a playoff choker, he has managed to hit 13 homeruns in 326 plate appearances (25.07 PA/HR), which is not really that far off his regular season rate (17.33 PA/HR). And while Bonds only led his league in homers twice (seriously; look it up), Rodriguez did it in 5 different occasions.
The Road Ahead
The interesting part of this story is just how it might end at any moment. Rodriguez's injury history and current age make him prone to a setback that could be the final nail in the coffin. Still, with how much he is being paid, the Yankees will continue to pencil him in the lineup as long as he can produce at a decent rate. The extra homers and push for the 700 club is just a plus in the grand scheme of things.
Even as it may be hard to root for the guy, we can't deny that it is still historic.