A week ago, the New York Yankees fan who has tickets to tonight’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays had to figure he had no shot at seeing Alex Rodriguez’ 600th career home run — not with Rodriguez and the Yankees embarking on a week-long road trip to Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
Yet that fan has a shot at seeing history now that Rodriguez’s pursuit of number 600 has turned historic, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Rodriguez didn’t clear the fence during the seven games against the Indians and Rays as his home run drought reached 38 at-bats — by far the longest stretch any player has endured between 599 and 600.
The Indians and Rays aren’t complaining, though: Rodriguez’ fruitless pursuit of 600 coincided with some of the biggest crowds of the season at Progressive Field and Tropicana Field. The Indians, who rank last in the majors in attendance with an average of 17,500, averaged 28,015 fans for the four-game series. The smallest crowd of the series (22,965 on Wednesday, July 28) was larger than the crowd for all but five of the Indians’ first 46 home games.
The Rays, who rank 23rd in the majors in attendance with an average of 22,733, drew three straight sellout crowds of 36,973. These were the first sellouts since the home opener for the Rays, who exceeded 30,000 just four times in their other 49 home games.
Then again, the lure of seeing Rodriguez’s 600th home run may not have been quite as strong as the attendance figures indicate. It took until the series finale for the Indians to exceed 30,000 fans while the Rays, who are nipping at the Yankees’ heels in the AL East, likely would have drawn big crowds even if Rodriguez was already at or beyond 600 home runs.
Whether it’s Rodriguez’s polarizing personality, a general home run hangover or his steroid-tainted past, his pursuit of 600 has inspired little more than indifference from the public. A Google search of the words “Alex Rodriguez 600 apathy” yielded 1,780 results.
When — if? — Rodriguez reaches 600, he’ll be the seventh player in big league history to do so but the fourth in the last eight years, following in the footsteps of Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa. While Rodriguez is the only one of the group to admit he used performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds and Sosa have been linked to steroid use.
Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters Thursday, July 29, that he believes the steroid scandals have “detracted” from Rodriguez’s march towards his 600th homer. “Because of all the subplots involved, I think that’s why you’re not getting as much of a build-up,” Maddon said.
The Yankees, who rank first in the majors in attendance with an average of 46,068, don’t need Rodriguez to lure fans to the Bronx. But perhaps there will be more hype now that Rodriguez is returning to New York, where, as long as he homers during this seven-game homestand, he’ll become the third Yankees player in the last seven years to reach a major milestone at home.
After failing in three previous attempts — including two on the road — to win his 300th game, Roger Clemens notched the landmark victory on June 13, 2003. And Derek Jeter broke Lou Gehrig’s franchise record for hits on September 11, 2009. Pretty good company for Rodriguez — probably, anyway.