ATLANTA -- When Hank Aaron drilled Giants Hall of Fame right-hander Gaylord Perry's third-inning pitch over Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium's outfield wall on April 27, 1971, he joined Willie Mays and Babe Ruth as the only Major Leaguers to hit 600 career homers.
Nearly 40 years later, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has become just the seventh man to join this elite club. Rodriguez hit his 600th homer Wednesday in the first inning off the Blue Jays' Shawn Marcum.
"When you reach that plateau, no matter where it is, whether you're playing in the Majors or the Minors, it's a tremendous accomplishment," Aaron said. "It means an awful lot to whoever reaches this achievement."
As Aaron crossed home plate on the first of the two historic April evenings he created in Atlanta, he could look to his left and see the only other man who had ventured into Babe Ruth's hallowed territory. Standing in center field for the Giants that evening was Mays, who had delivered his 600th homer 19 months earlier.
Rodriguez becomes the fourth member of this recent generation to reach this milestone. Like all-time home run leader Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, his place in the 600-homer club will be associated with an era that was rife with widely suspected or admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs. Ken Griffey, Jr., the only other man besides the aforementioned players to reach this milestone, has not been linked to steroids during his career, but there will always be those that argue that the modern era has been more hitter friendly than past years due to pitching staffs that were diluted by expansion and smaller ballparks.
"It really doesn't matter what kind of asterisk you put by it -- 600 homers is something special," Aaron said. "It's been so long since I reached that mark, I really don't remember how I felt. But I'm sure I was excited, probably even more than Alex because there weren't as many people who had done it before."
Fewest at-bats to reach 600 career homers
Ken Griffey Jr.
Aaron clearly remembers the projections that were being placed on Rodriguez when he met the then-young Mariners shortstop as he was being introduced to the Major League scene in the mid-1990s.
While in Seattle to spend some time with his former Braves teammate, Woody Woodward, who was then serving as the Mariners' general manager, Aaron also spent some time with Griffey, and listened to the praise that was being directed toward Rodriguez.
"Woody told me that he thought if this kid stayed healthy, he would likely break a lot of records," Aaron said. "I had a lot of respect for Woody. He didn't speak loud. But when he did speak, you certainly wanted to listen."
At just 35 years old, A-Rod certainly has a chance to surpass Aaron's total of 755 career homers and Bonds' all-time record mark of 762. But regardless of whether the three-time American League MVP reaches these totals, he'll seemingly always have The Hammer's respect.
"I think he has been marvelous," Aaron said. "His career has just been super."
While watching Rodriguez live up to the expectations of becoming one of the game's legendary figures, Aaron has appreciated the way Rodriguez has handled the pressures created by his record-setting contracts and the increased scrutiny he has encountered since joining the Yankees before the start of the 2004 season.
"When you go to New York and continue to have the kind of career that he has had, that's saying something," Aaron said. "You don't fool those people in New York very long. They are very knowledgeable. To be able to do what he's done there shows he wasn't afraid."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.