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Would he be on track to becoming the greatest home run hitter ever without juice? Not a chance.

Even if you believe Rodriguez when he says he used steroids only when he was playing for the Texas Rangers, his march through the record books can’t be seen as anything but illegitimate. The problem is there’s no way to separate what was real from a very gifted player and what was supplemented by a very gifted chemist.

A-Rod himself has not exactly been forthcoming about what he used and how long he used it. Outed by Sports Illustrated _ which reported he tested positive for both Primobolan and testosterone _ he attributed it to being young and naive and to a “loosey-goosey era” in baseball.

At least he got the last part right. The same year he said he first began juicing Bonds hit a ridiculous 73 home runs for a Giants team that played half of its games in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, and no one was being tested for anything in baseball.

Toss out the 156 home runs Rodriguez hit while admittedly juiced and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. He simply would be an aging slugger with declining numbers and no chance of topping the all-time home run list.

Be more generous and throw out just some of them, and the climb to the top would at least be harder. A-Rod averaged 52 home runs a year in Texas and just 38 a year in his full seasons with Seattle and the Yankees, the case could be made that at least 42 of his home runs were hit with the aid of a needle.

Count them as you like, the bottom line doesn’t change. Home run No. 600 only means something to A-Rod and the guy peddling the ball he hits over the fence.

That has to be grating on Rodriguez, who has always been so concerned with numbers that he probably stayed up late every night studying them. Even as he carefully carves out a new persona he has to wonder how No. 600 would have played out on the big New York stage had SI not outed him.

“For me the whole thing as I approach 600 the thing I think about is the perspective of where I was when I hit 500. How things are different now,” Rodriguez said Tuesday. “For me early on, I just thought it was about accumulating numbers.”

The only consolation for baseball fans is that those numbers seem to be getting harder and harder to accumulate. Rodriguez needed home runs in his last two at-bats of the 2009 season to avoid not hitting 30 home runs for the first time since 1997 and has just 15 home runs more than halfway through this season.

In the end, though, maybe it doesn’t matter at all. Is there really any difference having A-Rod as the all-time home run champion as opposed to Bonds topping the list?

No, because the real home run leader is Hank Aaron. The real single season mark belongs to Roger Maris.

Any home run records set during the “loosey-goosey era” simply don’t count.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org