I settled in Wednesday for my first TV spring training game of the year, Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees from Legends Field in Tampa, Fla. Within seconds, I was set to start typing an item about how ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe was already in midseason form with this comment about Alex Rodriguez:
"If he hits as many home runs after the age of 30 as he did before, he will easily be the all-time home run leader."
Well, I thought. Duh. That'd be true of a lot of the big sluggers, wouldn't it? The trick is lasting long enough into your 30s to approach the top of the list. Hitting them in your 20s is the easy part.
It was going to be a great item, believe me. I was going to lay it all out. Then I looked at the numbers and found that the guy in midseason doofus form was me, not Sutcliffe.
Rodriguez had 409 home runs as of his 30th birthday, a record, and if he hits as many after he'll have 818, which would break Barry Bonds' record of 762, and would probably be enough to pass Bonds even if the Big Asterisk comes back and plays another year. Rodriguez, who is 32, has 109 home runs since turning 30 for a total of 518, which puts him 17th on the all-time list.
I was surprised to find that of the 15 men ahead of him who were not Babe Ruth, and therefore spent most of their careers chasing the all-time home run record, 10 hit more home runs after they turned 30 than before. By a lot, mostly.
In fact, only three of the all-time leaders put themselves in Rodriguez's position by getting halfway to the home run record by their 30th birthday. Needing 357 to get halfway to Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx hit 379 before he turned 30, but he only hit 155 after and he's now 14th all time with 534. Just ahead of him with two more home runs, and similar vices that torpedoed the back half of his career as well, is Mickey Mantle, who hit 374 before his 30th birthday, 162 after.
The third is Ken Griffey Jr., who was chasing Henry Aaron. He needed 378 to get to the halfway point, and he had 398 on his 30th birthday. That early-career prowess prompted quite a bit of talk at the time -- Griffey turned 30 in the 1999-2000 offseason -- that the Kid would be the one to break Aaron's record. But injuries began taking their toll in 2001 and Griffey has hit only 195 homers in his 30s. He's still going, but it no longer looks like he's a threat to the leaders.
Even Aaron, who broke Ruth's record of 714 at the age of 40, didn't get halfway to the Bambino by his 30th birthday, though he only fell 15 short with 342. He hit 413 after the big 3-0.
Bonds' late-career surge is well-documented, in all senses of the word, and extreme. He's the only man with more than 500 homers after turning 30. His 509 home runs since then are just more than twice as many as the 253 he hit in his 20s. Even more extreme is the split for the equally tainted Rafael Palmeiro, who's 10th on the all-time list with 569, only 153 of them before he turned 30.
But I was surprised to find Aaron's split (342-413) was as dramatic as it was, even though I lived through his late-career home run surge. Babe Ruth was a pitcher early in his career, so I expected his lopsided 284-430 split, but I hadn't expected to find that Willie Mays, Sammy Sosa -- I might have thought of him, but it's closer than you'd think at 277-332 -- Mark McGwire, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey and Ted Wiliams all hit more homers after their 30th birthday than before it. Williams lost a lot of home runs to World War II while in his 20s.
Sutcliffe made it sound like hitting more homers after age 30 than before is a breeze, which is what set me off. Saying all a guy has to do is something Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Jackson, Schmidt, McCovey and Williams did is a little silly. But Rodriguez belongs in that group, and Sutcliffe's point, which is that A-Rod's in great shape to break the record, was good.
Rodriguez's birthday is in July, so he's played about two-fifths of a season, around 60 games' worth, since he turned 32. And he has 518 homers. At about the same age, Griffey, just starting to slow down, had 462. Aaron had 418. Any way you slice it, A-Rod's in decent shape, though it won't be easy. If he averages 30 home runs a year he'll break Bonds' record when he's 40.
On the one hand, the last time Rodriguez failed to hit at least 35 was 1997. On the other, 30 home runs a year for eight years is a lot. I don't care who or how old you are.
Why am I poring over all this meaningless minutia? Hey, man, it's spring training. I've got to get in shape too.
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