Friday, July 27, 2007

The Once and Future King

Alex Rodriquez currently sits one home run away from joining the elite club of players who have hit 500 in their career. Jimmy Foxx currently holds the record for being the youngest to get to 500 home runs, but Arod will shatter that mark by almost 11 months (he was also the youngest to 400 home runs). All the talk this week has been about Barry Bonds and his impending replacement of Hank Aaron at the top of the home run list, but even Barry has said on various occasions that he's just holding the spot for Arod. The press has often mentioned the on his current pace, Arod will become the all time home run king by the time he retires. Of course a lot can happen between home run #500 and home run #800.

Before the start of the century it was Ken Griffey Jr. who was most often mentioned as the heir apparent to Aaron on the all time home run list, but injuries derailed his march to the top. Griffey was the previous youngest to 400 home runs but he has had a string of injuries that have slowed his progress significantly. He currently stands at 588 home runs and given his age (37) and his history of injuries, it seems unlikely that he will reach Aaron, much less Bonds, by the time he retires. Of course it could be pointed out that this is the age when Bonds turned into the second coming of Babe Ruth (from the ages of 35-38, he averaged 52 home runs a year). Griffey averaged 50 home runs a year for the four years leading up to his 30th birthday. From the ages of 31-34 he averaged only 16 home runs a year. He seemed to be constantly on the disabled list during those years. Without those injuries he would perhaps be 100 home runs further along and in prime position to challenge for the record. However, barring a Bonds like renaissance (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), it seems that Griffey will not end up as the all time home run king.

The problem with career projections is that they do not take things like injuries into consideration. When Arod was a free agent, his agent sent along a package to his perspective suitors that included a career projection in which Arod ended up with over 800 home runs. It all looks good on paper, but baseball is not played on paper or in a computer simulation. We have already seen the effects of the pressure of playing in New York take their toll on Arod. If he were to have a significant injury, his march toward the record could be slowed considerably.

I have already stated enough times on this blog that my feelings toward Bonds are less than positive, but he will, in fact be the all-time home run leader in a few days. I can't say that I'll be happy about it but it is inevitable. And while a lot of fans around baseball may look to Arod as their hope that the record will soon be reclaimed by a "clean" player, they should beware of thinking of it as a foregone conclusion. Just remember that 300 home runs is a lot of balls flying out of the park. Only 114 hitters in the history of the game have managed to reach that total (Roger Maris, the former single season record holder ended his career with 275, Bernie Williams ended his career with 287, David Ortiz has 247). Even at his current rate, it will still take Arod over seven seasons to get there. Seven seasons ago, it seemed a cinch that Griffey would be the one chasing Aaron today. Clearly that is not the case.

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