The Yankees' slugger is about to become just the seventh player to enter the exclusive 600 club, and yet it seems like no one started talking about it until a few days ago. Is it because we simply expected it of him? Is it because the timing coincides with the trade deadline, so there is too much other baseball-centric drama to occupy our attention? Or is it because it's A-Rod?
Until very recently, Rodriguez was arguably one of the most maligned personalities in the MLB universe. The Yankees signed him before the 2004 season, hoping he'd deliver a World Series immediately. Instead, he stood by and watched the most notorious collapse in sports history, involving himself in several forgettable and embarrassing sideshows along the way. While the Yankees continued to underachieve, he made as many headlines in gossip columns than on sports pages.
But sometime after the news broke of his steroid use, Rodriguez's personal upswing began. He learned to handle the off-the-field drama with as much grace and humility as he could muster, rolling his eyes and pleading the fifth instead of letting it get to him. More importantly, he began delivering on the field, and the Yankees finally got that championship they had been expecting of him for so long.
The fans all knew Rodriguez was human; the problem was, he seemed intent on proving that he wasn't.
After homering in Thursday night's 10-4 win over Kansas City, A-Rod stands just one long ball away from 600. He's saying all the right things, insisting the team's accomplishments far outweigh anything he could accomplish single-handedly. This, however, is a rare time where A-Rod has the right to revel in the moment.
"Having the perspective that I have now after winning a world championship with this team, there's really no comparison to the team accomplishment and the personal accomplishment," Rodriguez told the New York Daily News. "Those are great, but I have a much better perspective now."
This is beyond a "great" accomplishment. Rodriguez is about to do something just six players in the history of the sport have done before him, and barring an unheralded slump or drought, he's going to be the youngest player to do it.
Still, there seems to be a strange hollowness surrounding this particular feat. Whether or not Rodriguez really does hold the team's accomplishments in higher regard than his own remains to be seen. He can preach selflessness all he wants, but whether anyone is buying it is another story.
After Thursday's game, Rodriguez talked about a perspective shift that occurred sometime last season. He had a revelation, discovering that championship rings are far more fulfilling than personal stat lines and numbers. It seemed to be as earnest as Rodriguez could possibly get.
"I'm in a different place right now," he told ESPN.com. "A much better place."
To that, Derek Jeter quipped, "He's in a different place. Across the street."
Comments like that (particularly from the team captain, a future Hall-of-Famer and a former personal friend) have to make you wonder.
Rodriguez is about to join the 600 club. That's a big deal. It's a shame that his past reputation and his desire to overcome it have given the impression that to enjoy this would be inappropriate.
Now, finally, A-Rod is on the cusp of achieving one of the most superhuman feats of them all. Now, when he finally deserves the attention, where is it?
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