Craig Calcaterra

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod 75 home runs from matching Bonds’ career record


TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Alex Rodriguez plants his right foot in the batter’s box, takes a swing, steps in and taps the plate. His name is announced, and fans respond with 7 seconds of applause.

After two years as a scoundrel, he’s once again a star in the minds’ of many New York Yankees fans.

One year after his return from a drug suspension, A-Rod is approaching the home run marks of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. He hit 33 last year, his most since 2010, and enters this season with 687, just 75 from matching Bonds’ record.

“I know he gets there in three years,” Yankees great Reggie Jackson said. “I think it would be shocking if he got there in two.”

A-Rod says he plans to retire after the 2017 season. But he also says he could change his mind. Surpassing Bonds could be too alluring.

Last spring, Rodriguez’s name was absent from items in the Yankees’ gift shops as the team prepared to fight over a $6 million marketing payment triggered by his 660th home run – matching Willie Mays’ total. This March, blue Rodriguez batting practice jerseys that cost $129.95 sold out at Steinbrenner Field, and team doesn’t appear to anticipate a dispute if A-Rod reaches the next payment level for matching Ruth at 714.

Rodriguez turns 41 this July and in the post-steroids era already is at an age where feet and bats slow, where balls that once soared over walls are caught on the warning track. His hairline has started to recede and he keeps his locks trimmed, limiting hints of gray to a minimum.

As much as he tries to concentrate on the next game, the next at-bat and the next pitch, the big picture infiltrates his thoughts, like water starting to trickle through cracks in a dam.

“There are things you just can’t help to think about. Obviously, they’re there. They’re big numbers,” he said. “But the goal for me this year is exactly what it was last year: come out, work really hard, be in good shape, better be productive in the middle of the lineup and try to help us win games. And whatever the numbers add up to, they add up to.”

History suggests he might fall short of Bonds’ 762.

Bonds holds the record for most home runs after turning 40 with 79 – Rodriguez already has 10 since the big birthday last July 27. The mark for most in a season who already was 40 on opening day is 29, shared by Ted Williams and Raul Ibanez.

“Of course, I’m sure it’s in his head,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You hope that it doesn’t weigh heavily, and that he’s able just to go out and relax and play.”

Rest and relaxation.

Shifted from third base to designated hitter, Rodriguez spent just 11 innings in the field last season. He played in 151 games, his highest total since 2007. Before the suspension, he had gone on the disabled list six times in six years for a string of ailments that included operations on both hips, one knee surgery, a strained calf and a broken hand.

Still, Rodriguez tailed off in the last two months of the season, like a leaf shriveling in the summer heat and falling to ground at the first hint of autumn cool. After homering off the Texas Rangers’ Matt Harrison for his sixth birthday homer, he ended his first night as a 40-year-old with a .276 batting average, 24 homers and 59 RBIs. A-Rod hit .208 with nine homers and 27 RBIs the rest of the season.

“I think it’s easier this year, just because we both kind of know the rigors of his job and what he needs,” Girardi said. “When he gets out of his legs, you know it’s maybe a time to give him one day off or two days off.”

Rodriguez got to heal while sitting out the 2014 season, an enforced absence inflicted by then-Commissioner Bud Selig for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract. When A-Rod returned last spring training, he went out of his way to act humbly and speak contritely, offering milquetoast responses that sounded as if refined in focus groups to remove any trace of ego or controversy.

He became an elder statesman on a middling Yankees team that limped into the playoffs and was eliminated by Houston in the AL wild-card game. Young players seeking advice gravitated to him in the clubhouse, inquiring in both English and Spanish.

“He’s been talking to everybody,” Yankees teammate Carlos Beltran said. “The two years that I’ve had a chance to play with him, he’s been great.”

Rodriguez was affable as a guest analyst on Fox during last year’s playoffs. But whether on television or not, A-Rod won’t say whether he thinks Aaron’s 755 or Bonds’ 762 are within reach. When he responds to questions, Rodriguez delays before starting his reply, as if to filter out many of his thoughts.

“I don’t allow myself to think that far ahead,” he said. “Literally, when you’re 40, you’re day to day, so you can’t get too excited.”

Construction worker injured at Wrigley Field

A general view of Wrigley Field and the newly renovated bleachers during the second inning of a baseball game between the the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds Thursday, June 11, 2015,  in Chicago. Chicago won 6-3. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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Bad news in Chicago: a construction worker was injured at Wrigley Field.

According to this report, some pipes fell on her as she worked in the basement of the under-construction Cubs office building which is being built adjacent to the ballpark. The severity of her injuries are not known but she suffered injuries to her face, neck, and back in the Friday morning incident.

Pete Mackanin is imposing 50 cent fines for mistakes

FILE - In this July 20, 2015, file photo, Philadelphia Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin looks on during warm-ups prior to the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, in Philadelphia. Manager Pete Mackanin starts his first full season after replacing Ryne Sandberg last summer and new general manager Matt Klentak begins his first spring with the team.(AP Photo/Chris Szagol, File)
Associated Press

Phillies manager¬†Pete Mackanin has a young team that’s gonna make a lot of mistakes. He also has a team that, Ryan Howard notwithstanding, isn’t making a lot of money. So he’s fining them, but only a little bit, for the mistakes they make during spring training. From Todd Zolecki of

“If you don’t get a bunt down, everyone pays 50 cents,” Mackanin said before Thursday night’s rained out Grapefruit League game against the Braves at Champion Stadium. “If you don’t hustle, everyone pays 50 cents. If you miss a cutoff man, everyone pays 50 cents.”

It’s kind of neat in that it allows him to sort of act like a hard case but with a funny twist to it. Because, as he notes, who is going to complain about 50 cents? I imagine that guys laugh about it and joke and bond over each fine, even if their competitive side is actually trying hard to avoid getting fined. It’s a nice balance, which is only the latest of many data points suggesting that Mackanin is the perfect guy for this particular Phillies club. Sandberg would probably have them running wind sprints.

Only thing here: Zolecki says the fine pot is up to $1,000. Which, boy, that’s a lot of mistakes. Gonna be a long year, Phillies fans.