Andre Dawson has nothing but accolades for Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who finally reached the 600 mark with his two-run homer in the first inning against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
Rodriguez is the seventh player to reach the 600 plateau, behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630) and Sammy Sosa (609).
The Hawk was among a group of Hall of Famers who commented on the feat during Hall of Fame festivities late last month in Cooperstown, N.Y., after A-Rod had hit No. 599. Dawson, the only player inducted, went into the Hall in the Class of 2010 with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey.
Like Dawson, A-Rod grew up in Miami, and the two met when Rodriguez was a star player at Westminster Christian High School.
"He's a personal friend," Dawson said. "I've known him since he's been in high school. I'm quite proud of what he's accomplished. I saw that talent very early on. He's a South Florida boy, which is even better. By the time I first saw him, I was already in Boston -- had to be 1994 or '95."
Of course, the long-range question is whether A-Rod, who just turned 35, can hit enough homers to pass former Giants slugger Bonds on the all-time list. He's 162 away, and he is under contract with the Yankees through 2017. Bonds was 43 on Aug. 7, 2007, when he passed Aaron at 756 by hitting the landmark homer at AT&T Park.
Beating out The Babe
Age at time of 600th career home run
35 years, 8 days
36 years, 196 days
37 years, 81 days
38 years, 16 days
38 years, 139 days
38 years, 201 days
38 years, 220 days
Rodriguez is the youngest player to reach the 600 plateau, and he did it on the three-year anniversary of his 500th blast. Bonds tied Aaron with his 755th homer in San Diego on Aug. 4, 2007.
"Well, he's still young enough," Dawson said about A-Rod's chances. "Of course, injuries play a part in it. Obviously, he'll slow down, but I don't think he's going to slow down drastically. He should still hit 30-some homers a year and play well into his 40s."
Reggie Jackson, a special advisor with the Yankees and owner of 563 career homers, echoed Dawson's sentiment.
"I'm very happy for him," Jackson said. "He's my friend, and I know the work it took for him to do it."
Tony Gwynn was still in the middle of winning his eight National League batting titles for the Padres when Rodriguez came up, pretty much for good, as a 20-year-old with the Mariners in 1995. Gwynn always liked A-Rod's work ethic and approach at the plate.
"I'm a baseball fan. I love to see guys do things that haven't been done," Gwynn said. "The 600-homer club is a very exclusive club. I was watching TV and saw him hit 599. I love to see these guys get to these milestones that have rarely been reached. In his case, further on down the line, he's going to have some stuff he's going to have to deal with because of his admission. But I'm still a fan. I love to watch him swing the bat."
As for Rodriguez passing Bonds, "He's got a chance," Gwynn said. "Whether he does it or not remains to be seen. But if anybody has a shot at it, it would be him."
Seventh to 600
Date, opponent and location of all seven 600th home runs
A-Rod's "admission" that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-03 when he was with the Rangers came in 2009. He apologized at the time, saying, "I did take a banned substance. And for that I am very sorry and deeply regretful."
Several Hall of Famers consider this an issue in A-Rod's run at 600 and beyond.
"Basically, there will always be questions, always be doubts, whether the home runs were legitimate," Ozzie Smith said. "That's it in a nutshell. He came up in an era when everyone used. So it's very questionable."
"That's a lot of home runs," Ryne Sandberg said. "It's really something for anybody who does that. It's a small group. And he joins that group. But that's all I've got to say about it."
"I think it's great, but obviously, he'll always have hanging over his head the allegations about the drugs he took," Gary Carter said. "In any event, he's one of those kids who had the tag of 'superstar' on him when he was drafted, and he became a superstar. So he'll always be recognized as a great player. But 600, that's an incredible milestone. Not too many players have gotten there. And if he stays healthy, there's a chance he might one day be the all-time home run guy. We'll see."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.