I was going to post some wry commentary on Jayson Stark's latest humor column -- he is generally trying to be funny, isn't he? -- when I read the following stunning statement from Tim Kurkjian's latest missive:
The years 1967 and 1971 were the only ones in which two players hit their 500th career home run -- this season, there could be four: Sammy Sosa is one away, and Rafael Palmeiro (10), Fred McGriff (22) and Ken Griffey Jr. (32) are close, too. The 500 Club will expand from 17 to 21. Get used to it. It probably will get to 30 in 2004.
Now WAIT a minute ... Kurkjian is saying -- it's right there, I've read it for other interpretations and can't find any -- that between Opening Day 2003 and the close of the 2004 regular season, thirteen players are going to hit their 500th home runs.
Let's look at that for a moment ...
The list of the Top 30 Active Home Run Leaders includes just about everyone playing today who has at least half of the requisite 500 homers Kurkjian projects.
Let's assume Sosa, Palmeiro, McGriff and Griffey all DO get to 500 this year. Who's next to hit 500?
Well, sixth on the active list (behind Barry Bonds and the four mentioned above) is Juan Gonzalez, who has 405. It is at least conceivable that Igor could average 48 homers over the next two seasons.
After that it, gets silly. So lets assume further that Kurkjian accidentally typed "2004" when he actually meant "2005." Let's assume that Andres Galarraga, Matt Williams, Greg Vaughn, Ellis Burks have no shot.
That gives the following nine players (the number Kurkjian projects, remember) three full seasons to reach 500, getting the total in the "club" to Kurkjian's projected 30. Listed here with their current rank on the list:
8. Jeff Bagwell (380) would need to average 40 ... well, maybe.
9. Frank Thomas (376) would need to average 41 to get to 499.
12. Mike Piazza (347) would need 51 a year.
14. Gary Sheffield (340) ... 54.
15. Larry Walker (335) ... 55.
16. Jim Thome (334) ... 55 (to get to 499).
Here we find Mo Vaughn (#17), Ron Gant (#18) and David Justice (#20) on the list, and I just can't bring myself to pretend they have a shot. So let's move on ... and, say, let's assume Kurkjian actually meant to write 2006.
19. Manny Ramirez, with 310 homers, needs "only" to average a shade more than 47 dingers a year until he is 34 to get to Kurkjian's projection.
21. Alex Rodriguez, at 298 ... in four years, at 51 bombs a year ... you know, that one actually seems not only possible, but likely.
The rest of the names on the list are Rickey Henderson, Tino Martinez, Ruben Sierra, Dean Palmer, Robin Ventura, Dante Bichette (Dante Bichette???), Edgar Martinez, Eric Karros and Tim Salmon.
Karros, for instance, at #29 with 270 homers, needs only to match his career best of 34 homers five times to get within 10 dingers of the 500 club.
I'm so tired of commentators talking about the "cheapening" of the 500 home plateau. After the four get in this year, I would guess only two of the remaining 20-some names listed -- A-Rod and Thome -- will ever get in. Ramirez might if he stays healthy. Same with Gonzalez. Bagwell, if he plays longer than anyone expects him to. Other than that?
If the talk about "600 will be the new milestone" keeps up, we'll just have to live with the fact that this generation of ballplayers produced three 600-homer guys -- Bonds, Sosa and A-Rod -- over a span of six years (Bonds 2002, Sosa ~2004-2005, A-Rod circa 2007, while the pitching-rich generation previous produced two in a span of three years (Mays 1969, Aaron 1971).
Consider also that if Harmon Killebrew had repeated his 1972 season in 1973 (instead of getting hurt) and Frank Robinson had repeated his 1974 season in 1975 (instead of focusing on managing), we'd be talking about four 600-homer guys in six years ... which is more than this current crop of ballplayers will ever approach.