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Who's got next?

Who's got next?

So now the question becomes: Who's next? Who will next join baseball's PTL (players to lionize) 700 club?

The urge is to hope no one brings us here again, that Barry Bonds was the last time we had to cope with any of this. Who needs the aggravation, the rhetoric, the sideshow?

Seven-one-five is MLB's closest thing to a Holy Grail. Get near it, threaten to take possession of it, and things go just a bit haywire.

It has now been conquered twice, both times turning into an unsavory odyssey devoid of the joys and thrills the occasion ought to have produced.

That 1974 footage of Henry Aaron gliding around the bases ignores the abuse he received and the controversy he stirred. He got it from both racists and purists, the latter slamming him for needing nearly 3,000 more at-bats than Babe Ruth to reach 715. And where was Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who had ordered Aaron to play in a season-opening series in Cincinnati and not save it for home, the night Hammerin' Hank became No. 1?

As for Bonds ... how sad the overall apathy that greeted his feat. That he may have brought most of it upon himself doesn't lessen the dull ache of seeing someone unable to share such an accomplishment with a rejoicing nation.

So who wants to go through it again?

But, alas, we will doubtless have to.

Any number of people -- Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Manny Ramirez, some guy we've not yet even heard of -- can bring us back to the mountain top.

This is so because of all the reasons you have heard -- smaller ballparks, lighter bats, lightweight pitchers, tighter balls, chemical hanky-panky -- and some you may not have considered.

Like those shorter fences, home runs have simply become more reachable. They are no longer an accessory in the game, but the end-all. They have become an accepted upside of a faulty game, much more so than in the days of, say, Dave Kingman and Gorman Thomas.

Starting when he was 27, Thomas hit 115 homers in a three-year span but had 478 strikeouts in the same stretch. Kingman got 100 homers and rung up 359 times across his last three seasons. Both retired in 1986 -- ironically, Bonds' rookie season -- Kingman with 442 homers at age 37, Thomas at 35.

Kingman and Thomas were both considered freaks. Today, they would be "SportCenter" darlings.

"I wasn't thinking homer" remains part of the game's lexicon, a cliche dating back to when one had to be apologetic for swinging for the fences. Such remorse is no longer required and, in fact, most of the time batters think nothing but.

Thus, of all of the game's hitting longevity records, home run marks have become the most accessible. It is difficult imaging anyone averaging the 200 hits for 20 seasons needed to reach 4,000, or the 100 RBIs for the same 20 needed to reach 2,000.

to the babe and beyond

But 45 homers a season for 16 seasons to nail 720? Entirely in the modern realm of possibility. In the last decade, there have been 47 instances of guys hitting 45-plus.

The numbers simply crunch -- unlike for pitchers, whose line of 300-game winners is likely coming to an end with the current generation. As the pitching standard decreases -- today's 15-game winners rate as yesteryear's 20-game winners -- the homer standard rises.

The current crunchers of course have been responsible for that. While Pujols, Rodriguez and Griffey have spent their careers setting a myriad of age-group homer records, Ramirez is respected for his consistency.

The most viable threat among them is Rodriguez. In fact, it is hard to imagine him not reaching 715. Being 273 shy, A-Rod would need to average 28 homers through his age-40 season, a comedown from his current 36.5-a-year pace.

Griffey is closest, his total of 542 leaving him 173 away. At 36, he also is the oldest, not to mention an obvious obstacle -- he also is the most prone to injuries, without which he could very well have gone neck-and-neck with Bonds for the honor of catching the Bambino.

Next come Ramirez (446, needs to average 45 through his age-40 season) and Jim Thome (448, 54).

Most remote from the target is the baby, Pujols. He has a measly total of 225. But at 26, and with the sensational pace he has been setting, trying to project his ultimate numbers is futile.

When -- not if -- the next attack on 715 is staged, we can be certain of being spared one disconcerting element of such assaults on history. No one will be springing to the defense of Barry Bonds.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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