In the matter of Alex Rodriguez' 600th major-league home run, Ed Valentine asked in a post for the fan-centric online site, SB (SportsBlog) Nation, "How Should We Feel?"
Only six players in history previously reached that lofty milestone, and Rodriguez, who turns 35 Tuesday, theoretically has a lot more where those came from. Plenty of baseball observers think he ultimately will surpass Barry Bonds' all-time record of 762.
Yet this alpha athlete, who has dispatched so much horsehide over outfield walls for so long, also is the man who has launched a thousand ships of gossip, supposition and angst among fans. As Valentine put it in an a telephone interview, Rodriguez has been "controversial, always hard to understand. I think, as great as A-Rod is, there's a sense of disappointment with him. Because of steroids, because he's a bit of an odd guy."
Valentine is among the tuned-in baseball witnesses who noticed the lack of a festive, worshipful mood as Rodriguez began knocking on the door of that exclusive club peopled only by Bonds, Henry Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey, Jr. (630) and Sammy Sosa (609).
"Should we unabashedly celebrate him?" Valentine asked on his blog. "Should we excoriate him and turn our backs to his accomplishments because he is a 'cheater'? Should we, in some odd way, feel sorry for Rodriguez?"
To David Vincent, the home run guru among baseball historians, "I think people are overplaying the whole thing" of Rodriguez' 2009 admission of steroid use during his 2001-2003 seasons with the Texas Rangers - as well as Bonds' and Sosa's links to doping. "Certainly, I'm not saying anybody should be using stuff that's illegal or harmful, but he's one hell of a ballplayer. There still were only six guys [before him] with 600 home runs, out of 17,000 players."
Vincent does acknowledge other factors at play in how fans react to exactly who produces such feats. "I can't tell you how many times before last year," he said, "that I heard people say of Rodriguez, 'He's not a true Yankee.' Whatever the hell that means. And A-Rod has -- off a lot of people over the years. He made a remark in Texas about how it was him and nine dwarfs."
Howard Schwartz, president of Grandstand Sports & Memorabilia, attributed the lower-than-expected volume of excitement over Rodriguez to "two factors: a, steroids; and b, from the standpoint of people being unsure whether he'll ever make the Hall of Fame because of the steroids issue." It is that Hall of Fame stamp of approval, Schwartz said, that adds to the credibility of Rodriguez's batting records and, by extention, to the excitement over Rodriguez souvenirs.
David Kohler, president of SCP Auctions, agreed there exists a "downward pressure of steroids allegations and a bit of numbness to a lot of home-run balls." But Kohler's company handled the sale of Rodriguez's 500th home-run ball ($103,000) and Bonds' 762nd home-run ball ($752,000) and Kohler suspects Rodriguez's No. 600 ball could fetch a healthy $100,000 to $150,000 - even though it does not represent a record.
Still, there appears a disconnect with Rodriguez, wherein many fans are more likely to love the performance but not necessarily the performer. "To the hard-core collector," Schwartz said, "they want [Rodriguez memorabilia] because they want to fill in their collections. But to the fans, [personal popularity] affects the appeal."
Given this rare occasion, Valentine pronounced himself "mystified" by the lack of "talk, features, ESPN doing tributes. Mostly, I've seen stories that say, 'Why doesn't anybody care?' I'm not sure anybody knows what to make of him being at 600."