Barry Bonds on Alex Rodriguez: “I can’t wait until he hits 660. I know I’ll celebrate.”

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Yankees star Alex Rodriguez hit his 655th career home run on Thursday against the Blue Jays, leaving him just five home runs shy of tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list. Rodriguez tying Mays seems inevitable, and when he does accomplish the feat, a lot of controversy is sure to follow.

Fans and columnists are already unhappy a baseball icon will be mentioned in the same breath as Rodriguez, who has admitted to performance-enhancing drug use and had involvement with Biogenesis, resulting in his suspension for the 2014 season. The Yankees are threatening to take Rodriguez to an arbitrator to get out of paying him each of five $6 million “milestone” awards, starting with his 660th home run.

Perhaps the only player more polarizing than Rodriguez is Barry Bonds. And Bonds, Mays’ godson, is now publicly in Rodriguez’s corner, as he’s quoted heavily in this excellent piece by Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY:

“My godfather means the world to me. I love him to a T,” Bonds told USA TODAY Sports in an hour-long telephone interview, “but when Alex hits No. 660, I’ll be happy for him. Willie will be happy for him. Everybody should be happy for him.

“Any time anybody in the game does something that’s a great accomplishment, the game of baseball should celebrate that.

“No matter what. Baseball is benefiting from that person’s hard work, so baseball should at least celebrate.”

Bonds added, “I can’t wait until he hits 660. I know I’ll celebrate.”

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.