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Alex Rodriguez and the sad realization behind 700

Why A-Rod’s trek to history is a painful reminder of what could have been

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Alex Rodriguez blasted his 696th career home run into the left field seats, providing the difference in a 2-1 Yankees victory. Rodriguez is now on the cusp of history, just four homers away from the big 700, a mark that only three others have ever reached.

Sadly, if and when Rodriguez crushes number 700, and pauses with his bat held high in the air as he watches his historic ball sail over the wall in his classic long ball pose, the celebration will be diluted by what could have been, and really, what should have been.

Can you remember the late nineties, when a young, skinny kid in Seattle took the league by storm in the form of a .358 batting average and 36 homers in his first full season? It feels like a lifetime ago by now, after the years of controversy and HGH talk have clouded our memory of when Rodriguez was well on his way to being a top five hitter of all time.

By his mid twenties, 40 homers a year became the norm for the transcendent Rodriguez, who was starting to become a legit candidate for the new home run king. Now, the norm has become a loud chorus of boos in almost every major league park across the country, and his current deal with the Yankees is mentioned along with some of the worst in league history.

Of course, most of this drastic downfall was Rodriguez’s own doing. After admitting to use of illegal substances during his tenure in Texas, he had a chance at redemption, and seemed to embrace it. He conquered his playoff demons and carried the Yankees to their last championship back in 2009, while remaining out of the spotlight of trouble and being an overall solid teammate in the clubhouse and on the field.

Unfortunately, his run with trouble was far from over. His involvement with the Biogenesis scandal left him suspended from the league for the entire 2014 season, and Rodriguez’s villain persona was stronger than ever.

Most fans in New York decided to put animosity aside and support A-Rod when he returned in 2015, when he recorded his 3,000th hit. Still, the celebration of his monumental hit had a sense of restraint to it. The frustration of what he had done to his career, and what could have been were too much for some to move past. We may feel a similar reaction when number 700 is recorded.

Ken Griffey Jr. will be inducted into the Hall of Fame tomorrow, and will be welcomed with high praise due to his ability to maneuver through the Steroid Era without controversy. He retired with a sense of purity, like his silky smooth swing. Rodriguez, his former teammate, may never have that luxury due to the mistakes he made along the way.

What makes that so sad is the fact that A-Rod could have ended up retiring a better player than Griffey.

According to Rodriguez, his use of banned substances began upon signing his record contract with Texas, after feeling the added pressure to live up to the money offered to him. In his final three seasons with Seattle, before signing with Texas, A-Rod launched over 40 home runs and drove in over 100 runs in each of those three seasons.

Why someone with that elite skill set would feel the need for illegal substances is the real tragedy.

It was well documented in J.R. Moehringer’s ESPN the Magazine piece that Rodriguez always had a lingering sense of insecurity throughout his career, and an insatiable appetite to please everybody and anybody. His undeniable talent was matched only by his insecurity, and that was his downfall.

Anybody who has played with or coached Rodriguez has been quick to admire his undeniable work ethic, and dedication to always improve. He had all the tools to become one of the greatest of all time: the talent, the tireless drive to succeed, and the incredible baseball IQ.

Unfortunately, his fear that his hard work wouldn’t be enough is what led to his downward spiral. Now, after two seasons of trying to reinvent himself (again), it may be the fans who think his efforts aren’t good enough to earn forgiveness.

Alex Rodriguez is one of the most hated players in baseball today. He is constantly greeted with angry jeers in away parks, but anger is usually a cover for something more human.

In a sport with a strong sense of purity in its history, perhaps fans simply feel let down. They see A-Rod and they know what could have been, and they should be witnessing a first ballot hall-of-famer cement his place in baseball history. Instead, every milestone is another reminder of the sad story that led to the milestone.

A-Rod is going to reach 700 home runs in the near future. If he does it in the Bronx like he did his 3,000th hit, he will be cheered for his accomplishment. After all, despite any added help along the way, it takes an unreal amount of talent to hit that many round trippers in a career. Nobody can deny the hitting ability he has always possessed. Sadly, he felt he needed more. He definitely did not need it.

Beneath the villain so many see him to be is a star that collapsed under his own weight. So whether you are on the side of those who will boo his historic moment or those who will cheer, we can all agree that we didn’t expect to be here when Rodriguez was belting homers in Seattle, rounding the bases with Cooperstown waiting at home.

Regardless how you respond to seeing A-Rod circle the bases for the 700th time, we can all agree: there will be a damper on the moment, and the fact that it has to be that way is just plain sad for baseball fans.