Rodriguez Becomes Youngest Major Leaguer to Hit 600 Home Runs

Alex Rodriguez became the youngest of seven players in Major League Baseball history to hit 600 home runs, continuing his climb toward what was once the sport’s most hallowed record under the shadow of admitted steroid use.

Rodriguez, who turned 35 on July 27, hit a two-run homer off Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Shaun Marcum during the first inning of today’s game at Yankee Stadium. Rodriguez had gone 46 at-bats since his 599th homer on July 22 -- the longest drought for any player trying to hit his 600th home run.

Hall of Famer Babe Ruth was previously the youngest to pass 600 homers, reaching the mark at 36 years, 196 days. Ruth needed 2,044 games to achieve the feat, while Rodriguez reached 600 in his 2,267th.

With two outs and Derek Jeter on first base, Rodriguez drove a 2-0 pitch from Marcum over the centerfield fence at Yankee Stadium in his first at-bat today. The Yankees flashed “Congratulations Alex!” on the centerfield scoreboard and Rodriguez, after rounding the bases, came out of the dugout to acknowledge a standing ovation from the home crowd.

A 13-time All-Star, Rodriguez came into today’s game batting .264 with 85 runs batted in this season for the defending World Series champion Yankees. New York began the day one game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East Division with a 66-40 record.

Rodriguez’s 600th homer comes three years to the day after he hit his 500th homer, in 2007 against Kyle Davies of the Kansas City Royals. Rodriguez was also the youngest to that milestone, surpassing Hall of Fame first baseman Jimmie Foxx, who was 329 days older than Rodriguez when he hit his 500th.

In December 2007, Rodriguez signed a record $275 million, 10-year contract, with incentives tied to approaching Barry Bonds’s home-run record of 762 that could make the deal worth as much as $305 million.

Bonus Targets

Rodriguez will get $6 million for making appearances and signing memorabilia if he reaches each of five milestones -- matching the career totals of Willie Mays (660), Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Bonds, and if he sets a home-run record.

Rodriguez has the capability to hit the 163 homers needed to pass Bonds, according to Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.

“It’s easily in reach,” Long told reporters before a game on July 20. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t. It’s a challenge for him. He loves challenges. It’s something that’s in his grasp and it’s something that he’d love to do.”

How the Yankees celebrate Rodriguez’s climb to the top of the home-run charts is a question following the three-time AL Most Valuable Player’s confession in February 2009 to performance-enhancing drug use.

Rodriguez admitted that he took banned substances from 2001-03 while he was playing shortstop for the Texas Rangers, and said he stopped taking drugs after a spring-training injury in 2003. He joined the Yankees in 2004.

Hall of Famers

Aaron, Ruth and Mays are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Ken Griffey Jr. retired this season with 630 career homers.

The candidacies of Bonds and Sammy Sosa, who ended his career in 2007 with 609 home runs, remain in doubt because of allegations of steroid use. Both have denied using banned substances. Eligibility for the Hall begins five years after a player retires.

Bonds passed Aaron as Major League Baseball’s home-run leader in August 2007. He’s also the single-season leader with 73. He’s facing a criminal trial after being charged with obstruction and lying to a federal grand jury in 2003 when he said he never knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs.

Sosa was among 104 major-leaguers to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, according to the New York Times. Sosa told a U.S. congressional committee in 2005 that he never used banned muscle-building substances and the committee in May decided not to ask the Department of Justice to investigate him on perjury charges, the Times said.

McGwire Shunned

The first potential Hall of Fame entrant whose career was clouded by steroid allegations was Mark McGwire, who ranks eighth on the home-run list with 583.

McGwire in January was named on almost 24 percent of Hall ballots from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, his best result in four years of eligibility. Induction requires 75 percent of the vote.

A week after this year’s vote, McGwire admitted that he used steroids during his career, meaning his success in next year’s ballot may indicate how well Rodriguez is received.

Rodriguez said after hitting his 599th homer on July 22 that he was unsure whether public perception of his home-run record chase has changed in the 17 months since his steroid admission, though he felt “liberated” and more at peace.

Rodriguez’s 600th home run was his 255th with the Yankees. He also hit 189 for the Seattle Mariners, where he played his first seven major-league seasons, and 156 for the Rangers, where he played from 2001-03.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net.

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