Alex Rodriguez hit his 661st home run Thursday night, and it's impossible to not think how many more he would have had at this point if he wasn't suspended all of last season.
Of course, It's also worth wondering how many fewer HRs A-Rod would have smacked without performance enhancing drugs, which he admitted to using during his monster years with the Rangers. Last season, he was suspended for his role in Major League Baseball's investigation of an anti-aging drug connected to Rodriguez in yet another drug sting.
That's why baseball writers have been wearing out their asterisk keys of late as A-Rod, back with the Yankees this season, resumes his climb up the all-time HR leaders list. Home run 661 allowed him to pass Willie Mays and reach No. 4. It will be some time before A-Rod passes the next name, none other than Babe Ruth, who has 714. After that will be Hank Aaron's 755, and then, finally, the human asterisk himself, Barry Bonds, with 762.
How long it takes A-Rod to hit another 102 home runs is anyone's guess, but it won't be for a while. He's got seven this season, so even at this pace, it won't be for a couple years.
In the meantime, with Rodriguez having found his swing again as he tries to reform his relationship with fickle Yankees fans, who realize Derek Jeter isn't coming through the door anymore, A-Rod's biggest challenge is winning back his employers.
The Yankees are trying to worm out of paying bonuses A-Rod is entitled to for hitting his historic home run. He's due $6 million for tying Mays, and another $6 million for every additional step up that ladder. But the Yankees are challenging that clause because of the trouble their DH got himself into last year. If they can't promote a milestone, does the milestone matter? Yes, actually, and somehow, after all the jerkiness of A-Rod's career, the Yankees have made him a sympathetic character.
Mike Tyson went to jail, did his time, and came back to boxing. Mike Vick went to jail, did his time, and returned to football. And A-Rod, banished for a season, did his time, and now he's returned, looking for the all-too-familiar second chance most disgraced public figures lust for.
So with his swing back in his hips and the fans back in his corner and the Yankees back in first place, life is pretty good for Rodriguez again. Whether or not they pay their embattled slugger the money he's due is another matter. For right now, it's generally all good for Rodriguez, who has been born again as a Yankee hero making the most of this second chance.
And that's about all a liar and a cheat can really ask for, isn't it?
Had A-Rod returned this year and sucked, if he came back a joke, then none of this would even be happening. The boos would have continued and the curtain call he took after No. 661 would have been fantasy.
If not for the drugs and the lies and the cheating, A-Rod would probably be gunning for No. 2 or 3 on the list this season. But, then again, if not for the drugs, Rodriguez might not be anywhere close to the top of the all-time home run list.
That's why so many asterisk keys are being punched.