There is no greater feat in America’s pastime than the home-run record. There is the single-season record, which many will say still rightly belongs to Roger Maris, and there’s the all-time record, which safely belongs to Barry Bonds — for better or for worse.
Of the eight batters with the most home runs, only one is active — kind of. Alex Rodriguez, who appears on this list, was the only batter with any chance of making some noise in the standings (he announced his retirement in August 2016); the next active player behind him is Alberto Pujols is at a distant 16 with 591. So, where did A-Rod wind up on this list, and have we really seen the last of him?
No. 8 Sammy Sosa (609), No 7. Jim Thome (612)
Separated by only three home runs, Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome make up the first two entries on our list. Sosa, a right fielder who began his MLB career with the Texas Rangers before rising to prominence with the Chicago Cubs, gained notoriety in the late ’90s when he engaged in a home run duel with Mark McGuire (who would finish his career with 538 career homers), a race that culminated in 1998 when both of them broke Roger Maris’s 1961 single-season record of 61 home runs with 70 (McGuire) and 66 (Sosa).
While Sosa would end up on a New York Times list of players who had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003, he would deny any wrong-doing, a position he continues to hold to this day. While Sosa was eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013, the committee did not select him.
Thome, meanwhile, was famous for mimicking the batting stance from Robert Redford’s 1984 film The Natural, and hit for over 40 home runs in six different seasons. Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1989, Thome would eventually play for six different teams — after Cleveland, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Minnesota Twins, and the Baltimore Orioles (with returning stops to Cleveland and Philadelphia for a pair of seasons in 2011 and 2012, respectively.)
Now a special assistant to the general manager of the Chicago White Sox, the high-socked wonder has been recognized for his commitment to philanthropy since his retirement. He won the 2005 Lou Gherig award and the 2001 Marvin Miller Man of the Year.
No. 6 Ken Griffey Jr. (630), No. 5 Willie Mays (660)
The Kid. Junior. Ken Griffey Jr., the electric outfielder who played 22 years in the MLB, finished his career with 630 home runs. He’s also the league leader in consecutive home runs, sharing the record of eight straight games with a homer with Don Mattingly and Dale Long.
The first overall draft pick in 1987, Griffey spent the first 11 years of his career with the Seattle Mariners before leaving in 2000 for the Cincinnati Reds, where he spent the rest of his days (except a short stint with the White Sox and a return to the Mariners in 2009.) Griffey, son of also-famous MLB outfielder Ken Griffey Sr., is the only prominent home-run hitter of the ’90s who’s not linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
The notion that Willie Mays was passed by Alex Rodriguez (spoiler alert?) is an uneasy one for many baseball purists. Mays, who played in what is considered the pre-PED era, is unimpeachable as one of the finest baseball players of all time — ever. A twelve-time Golden Glove winner (no small feat, considering that the award wasn’t introduced until his sixth year in the league), and record-holding twenty-four time All-Star, Mays, who is still alive and kicking at age 82, spent his early years in the Negro American League before entering the MLB in 1951.
He hit his first career home run for the New York Giants after going 1-26, and would go on to be the first player to hit 300 home runs and steal 300 bases, per ESPN. Mays was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.
No. 4 Alex Rodriguez (696), and No. 3 Babe Ruth (714)
A-Rod famously battled with the MLB over his involvement in the 2013 Biogenesis scandal. This situation involved a Miami-based anti-aging company, Biogenesis of America, that allegedly provided up to 13 professional baseball players with human growth hormone, also known as HGH, an anabolic steroid banned in sports since 1992. Regardless, Rodriguez was still the youngest player to ever hit 500 (and 600) home runs. Despite the Yankees wanting him gone, he played well for the ball club through the 2015 season before retiring in 2016.
Could A-Rod pass the Babe? Arguably still the most famous baseball player of all time, Hall of Famer Babe Ruth was a pitcher and an outfielder synonymous with the idea of the home run. While his homers only land him third on the all time list, the Babe (real name: George Herman Ruth Jr.) was as famous for his prototypical rockstar lifestyle as he was for his exploits on the diamond, and would pass away from cancer in 1948 after campaigning tirelessly on behalf of the troops and their military service in World War II.
No. 2 Hank Aaron (755), and No. 1 Barry Bonds (762)
If any legend could challenge Ruth’s position as the Zeus of Baseball Olympus, it is Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. A right fielder who played most of his career for the Milwaukee (now Atlanta) Braves before retiring as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1976 at the age of 42 — Aaron, who still lives near Atlanta Georgia — was the last Negro Baseball League player on a Major League roster by the end of his career, and the racial tensions that accompanied his quest towards overtaking the Babe’s home run record lead to death threats in 1973. Aaron broke the record in 1974, and entered the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Barry Bonds, on the other hand, is not in the Hall of Fame. Bonds, who broke Aaron’s record in 2007, is as famous for his involvement in the PED scandal that rocked the league as for being, unquestionably, one of the greatest hitters of all time. While Aaron wasn’t on hand to congratulate him, a pre-recorded message from the legend played out on the scoreboard urging laying out Hank’s hope that, “The achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.”