Alex Rodriguez’s 500th dinger ocasioned much speculation as to whether he will some day overtake Barry Bonds’s still-growing home run crown, described ad nauseum in the press as the “most hallowed record in sports.” Nevermind that, outside the Americas, this record is of little interest. In fact, there was a time—and it was not so long ago—when the home-run record was not the most hallowed record in American sport, or even in baseball itself. For most of the game’s early history, the record that mattered was the career hits record. (Note that when Babe Ruth took over the homer record, in 1921, he passed Roger Connor, who had 138—not exactly a magic number.) Records change, as does their relative value.
One thing that doesn’t change: sterling character has never been a prerequisite for holding an important baseball record. Today, as we collectively sigh over the fact that such a bad seed has taken the dinger title, keep in mind that the last three holders of the hit crown have been Cap Anson (reigning 1880-1922), who was instrumental in establishing the color barrier in major league baseball; Ty Cobb (1923-1984), also a racist, possibly a murderer, and almost certainly a gambler on baseball; and Pete Rose (1984-present), still banned from the game for his own gambling transgressions and general jerkitude. Hank Aaron, historically, is the anomalous figure, not Barry Bonds. So if you’re still obsessing about 756, get over it.
Getting back to A-Rod, it’s worth noting that Alex has a very outside shot at the Rose record (4,256, in case you’ve forgotten that touchstone), and a somewhat better (but still slim) hope at the 4,000 hit mark, held only by Rose and Cobb. At age 31, Alex has over 2,200 hits. He averages about 175 a season. Do the math. Another player with a shot at 4,000: Derek Jeter, who at 33 has more than 2,300 hits. Certainly, both men are capable, even likely, to crack the all-time top 10 (Eddie Collins’s 3,310 is the target for that goal). Who knows—sometimes even nice guys finish first.