Who's the Home Run King Now?

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It might be decades before baseball has a legitimate home run
king to wash away the steroids era.

Remember, this used to be the most cherished record in sports.
Babe Ruth, The Sultan of Swat. Hank Aaron, class and dignity.

Who knows if the career home run mark will ever have such
meaning again.

Now that heir apparent Alex Rodriguez admitted Monday to using
banned substances while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001-03,
generations of fans may never get a chance to cheer for a home run
champ who earns the title fair and square.

"To hear all that information is just sad. Sad for me, sad for
him, sad for the game," said Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda,
who called A-Rod a friend. "I just don't understand it. I cannot
understand it. Certainly it has helped him, taking this stuff. It's
just bad for baseball, bad for the game."

The 33-year-old Rodriguez was supposed to wipe away the stain of
suspicion left by Barry Bonds, whose mark of 762 was set two years
ago. Baseball was going to have a home run king it could celebrate,
rather than scorn.

No BALCO or FBI or federal judges. Just power and pure talent.

Bonds has been dogged by doping accusations for years and is set
to go on trial next month on charges he lied in 2003 when he told a
grand jury he never knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs.

Rodriguez ranks 12th on the career list with 553 homers, 209
behind Bonds. After A-Rod, it's hard to find someone next in line.

Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera might have a chance down the
road, but they're a long way away.

Maybe Manny Ramirez or Jim Thome can hang around long enough to
try, but they're both in their late 30s and need more than 220
homers to catch Bonds.

So, now what?

"The greatest record of all is in jeopardy," Hall of Fame
pitcher Goose Gossage said. "There will always be a big cloud
hanging over this generation of hitters. And it's sad. ... I don't
know where it's going to stop or if it ever will."

Allegations against Bonds soured many fans who nonetheless
followed the San Francisco Giants slugger's pursuit of Aaron's home
run mark of 755 - a record that stood more than three decades.

"In my eyes, Henry is the king. He owns the record," Gossage
said. "What these other guys did is a shame. And it shouldn't
stand, and it shouldn't count."

It's hard to imagine A-Rod getting much support. After all, the
New York Yankees star has already done something Bonds hasn't -
admit guilt.

Rodriguez has also apologized - something else Bonds hasn't

Perhaps fans will be more forgiving of A-Rod because of his
confession. Maybe not. But surely, most would like the game to have
a home run king that wasn't suspected of using illegal chemicals to
put up bigger numbers.

Time will tell if baseball's toughened drug-testing rules make
that possible.

"I think it's tainted. I think it doesn't hold any water,"
Gossage said. "There will always be a cloud over it. There will
always be questions - he didn't do it on his own."

That's where players like Pujols, Cabrera and Mark Teixeira come

With 319 homers, Pujols seems to have a realistic chance. He
turned 29 last month and has averaged 39.9 home runs over his eight
major league seasons.

If he stays on that pace - and stays out of trouble - he would
catch Bonds in a little more than 11 years. Of course, who knows
how many homers Rodriguez might finish with.

Ken Griffey Jr. seemed to have a chance to catch Aaron until he
was slowed by injuries. Griffey leads active players with 611 home
runs. But he's a 39-year-old free agent and appears at the tail end
of his career.

Ramirez, who turns 37 in May, has 527 homers and is looking for
a new team. Thome has 541 home runs, but he's 38.

Howard is a home run machine. He has 177 in 572 career games and
he plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark in Philadelphia. But he got
a late start in the majors and already is 29.

Teixeira, teammates with A-Rod in Texas and now New York, has
203 home runs and will turn 29 in April.

Andruw Jones has 371 and will turn 32 in April, though he
appears to be in the midst of a swift decline.

Keep an eye on the 25-year-old Cabrera, who has 175 homers. He's
the youngest player with at least 115, though he plays in a
pitcher's park in Detroit. Prince Fielder, who will turn 25 in May,
has 114.

Others to watch:
Carlos Delgado - 469 homers at age 36.
Vladimir Guerrero - 392 homers at age 33.