Rep. Peter King is not impressed with Alex Rodriguez's quest to equal the 660 home runs of Willie Mays. In an interview yesterday with Newsday, King, a longtime Mets fan, was critical of A-Rod, calling the Yankees slugger a "big-time cheater."

"To me, A-Rod has done a lot of damage to the game," King (R-Seaford) said. "He cheated with a lot of malice and forethought."

King said that unlike other major sports, there is a "sanctity" to baseball records that steroid users have tainted. King suggested that A-Rod's statistics, along with those of home run king Barry Bonds and sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, should be marked with an asterisk.

Rodriguez, who did not play in yesterday's game in Detroit, has 658 homers.

King, a potential GOP presidential contender in 2016, added that celebrating A-Rod's home runs "sends the wrong message to kids. It's a matter of integrity and public health."

King agrees with the Yankees' reported plan to withhold a $6-million bonus due Rodriguez if he ties Mays, who is fourth behind Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. On Wednesday, King told TMZ Sports in front of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington that the Yankees should not reward A-Rod.

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"I think they're right because it's obvious that so many of [his] home runs were tainted," King said. "I think it would be wrong to be celebrating . . . since for all we know, hundreds of those home runs probably occurred when he was taking steroids."

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking Thursday in Manhattan to the Associated Press Sports Editors, appeared to dismiss King's comments to TMZ.

"You know what's the great thing about America is people are free to express their views about topics like this," Manfred said. "Good for Peter King."

Manfred appeared to express some doubt as to what the Yankees' ultimate position will be on the bonus. "A lot of people said a lot of things about who's going to take what position,'' he said. "I think I'm going to wait and see as to what happens."

Manfred also discussed other topics.

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On the 13-3 Mets' early-season success: "I'm always happy to see the team start to turn around," he said. He credited general manager Sandy Alderson. "I think Sandy's done a phenomenal job there. The Wilpons have really taken a long-term view toward making that franchise competitive. We're really excited about the Mets."

As for the team's finances, Manfred said, "The Mets are in compliance with our rules. In terms of financial stability, I've said before I'm really confident about the ability of the current ownership of the Mets to invest in their team in a way that makes sense from a competitive perspective."

On Pete Rose's possible reinstatement: "We have gathered volumes, literally volumes, of documents related to the original investigation," Manfred said, adding that there is no timetable for his decision. He said Rose will be permitted to participate in an as yet undetermined format at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

On PED issues: "Not only for baseball but for all athletics, it is not an issue that you can check off as solved. You have to stay constantly vigilant in order to make sure you're on top of the latest developments and because there is a temptation for athletes to use."

Manfred said he believes the penalties in place are "really severe . . . No player wants to lose 80 games or a season . . . I think we're pretty good in the penalty area. I don't think there's any penalty no matter how severe, lifetime ban, whatever, that is going to eliminate the temptation to use these drugs."