A-Rod will find redemption

JORDAN HEATH-RAWLINGS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Barry Bonds knocked out another one on Wednesday night, leaving him only 12 behind Hank Aaron in his quest to become baseball's all-time home-run king.

Barring injuries, slumps or steroid-related grand jury indictments, Bonds should take the crown sometime in July at the latest, and there will be frowns and scowls across the baseball world at news of his tainted achievement.

But somewhere in New York -- or wherever the Yankees find themselves when the inevitable happens -- Alex Rodriguez will probably be smiling.

Aside from Bonds, A-Rod has been the game's most polarizing figure over the past half-decade.

Yankees fans have booed him for not living up to the loftiest of October expectations, and nearly every other fan has booed him because he's a Yankee, petulant and the highest-paid player on the league's most expensive team.

In short, he's an easy man to hate, but not for long.

Just as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa washed away the bitter taste of a World Series lost to a labour dispute with an epic home run race during the summer of 1998, A-Rod will get his chance to pass Bonds in turn and clear the dirty air that lingers from years of steroid scandal, accusations and talk of attaching asterisks.

Sometime later this summer, probably right around when he turns 32 on July 27, Rodriguez will slam his 500th career home run.

Bonds was almost 37 when he reached that plateau.

Granted, it may be difficult for Rodriguez to maintain Bonds' pace into his early 40s, given that baseball actually tests for steroids now, but even if he averages only 35 homers a year, a number he's failed to reach only once since his rookie year, he would hit 780 dingers before his 40th birthday.

And as he gets closer to the magic number -- wherever Bonds leaves it -- he will cross that thin line between love and hate.

He may not be lovable, but A-Rod is clean. He's never been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs (and Yankee fans would hold up his post-season performance as proof of this). Bonds is, if not provably dirty, as tainted as it gets.

The closer Rodriguez gets to reclaiming the home run crown in the name of fair play and clean living, the less his post-season struggles and $25-million-plus salary will matter to fans who want integrity restored in the most hallowed of baseball records.

When it finally happens, Rodriguez will be vindicated. Bonds will be footnote, maybe even an asterisked footnote. Rodriguez will get the kind of unconditional love fellow Yankee Derek Jeter receives, the kind of love that A-Rod covets, but hasn't tasted since he left Seattle.

So every time Bonds hits another one out, you know he has a fan in at least one clubhouse aside from his own.

"Hate me now," A-Rod thinks to himself, "you'll love me later."

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