Yankees' Alex Rodriguez Hits 600th Homer

Michele Norris talks to NPR's Mike Pesca about Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, who hit his 600th home run on Wednesday. But Rodriguez's accomplishment was greeted with muted enthusiasm because of his admission that he has taken performance enhancing drugs during his career.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This afternoon in the Bronx, Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez finally did it.

Mr. JOHN STERLING (Sportscaster): Swung on. A hit in the air to deep center. It is high. It is far. It is gone.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. STERLING: He's done it. Alex Rodriguez hits into Monument Park. He's...

NORRIS: That was John Sterling of WCBS Radio calling A-Rod's 600th home run. Rodriguez is the youngest player to reach that milestone, and only the seventh ever.

NPR's Mike Pesca joins us from New York to talk about all this.

Mike, it was almost two weeks between numbers 599 and 600. Were Yankees fans getting a bit impatient?

MIKE PESCA: Yankee fans impatient?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: These daughters and sons of Steinbrenner?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: I think Yankee fans are born impatient and those that aren't have it thrust upon them. And yeah, 12 games - this 12-game drought, it's not really a drought if you go through the numbers. Rodriguez's best season in terms of home runs was 2002. In that season, he went 14 homerless games. He won the MVP Award in 2003. He went 13 homerless games in that season.

It's really absolutely no big deal, except to New Yorkers and except to the New York tabloids - I have a bunch here. And for weeks, the headlines were all things like, in The Post: Alex Stuck on 599, Who Needs Him? In The Daily News: On Birthday A-Rod Fails to Hit 600, Party Pooper; Fit to Be Tied, A-Rod Fails Again.

I mean, a home run is a difficult thing. I know A-Rod has 600 of them but you can't call not hitting one a failure. Well, I guess you can...

NORRIS: If you're the New York Post, you can.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Well, of course, this is a big day, but the reaction to this accomplishment is perhaps somewhat muted because A-Rod has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Will this always carry an asterisk?

PESCA: No, not officially. And the idea of asterisks in baseball is probably an overused one. And it's also somewhat muted because he's A-Rod, right? He dates Madonna, and he knocked a ball out of a Red Sox player's hand, and he kissed himself in a mirror in a magazine spread, and he's not Derek Jeter. That's a big thing he's not been able to correct and probably never will.

But you are right. There's the personality aspects, and Alex Rodriguez has a lot of detractors, but it really is because of steroids and the steroid era. And to underline this, think about what Ken Griffey, Jr., who was never accused of doing steroids, people who follow baseball said they'd be very surprised if he ever did steroids, and he joined the 600 home run club a couple years ago, and there wasn't much celebration of that.

And I really think it's because baseball fans never had a reckoning about what the performance-enhancing-drug era meant. The players kept their big salaries from that era - 1998, a season with a lot of home runs, was supposed to be the one that saved baseball, and that's steroid-fueled.

But there was never this time when the fans could somehow come to terms with what the steroid era means. And so it plays itself out I think subconsciously with a lot of fans. You just withhold your enthusiasm, and it's kind of a sad thing because baseball is supposed to have this great connection to the past. And when someone hits 600 home runs and, you know, joins the names of Aaron and Ruth and Mays, it's supposed to be an amazing thing, but it is bittersweet in some ways.

NORRIS: As we said, Rodriguez is the youngest man to join the 600 home run club. He's got a lot of years ahead of him. Will he hit 700, maybe 800 in his career?

PESCA: Well, and I should note that Babe Ruth actually hit 600 home runs in fewer at-bats. He wasn't as young. Remember, he was a pitcher in the beginning of his career.

I think Alex Rodriguez certainly will hit 700 home runs if he stays relatively healthy. It took him three years to the day between 500 and 600. So at that pace, maybe when he's about 37, maybe 38, allowing for a slowdown, he'll get to 700. And then at that point he's got a lot to play for because there's Babe Ruth at 714 and Hank Aaron at 755, and the all-time home run title would be, Barry Bonds holds it now at 762. So if he's healthy enough to do it, he has every incentive to stick around, try to become the home run king.

NORRIS: Mike, I got to let you go, but anyone else likely to join this elite club anytime soon?

PESCA: Yes, soon Jim Thome, who plays for the Twins now, should join it. And then right below him, among active players, with 554 homeruns, is Manny Ramirez. We're going to have the same kind of debates because Manny Ramirez was suspended for using illegal substances, didn't just admit it, actually missed time. So that'll be a fun occasion when he comes close to 600.

NORRIS: Mike, always good to talk to you.

PESCA: My pleasure.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Mike Pesca from New York.

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