When Albert Pujols slugged his 499th and 500th home runs the other night at Washington, he became the 51st player in history to reach that magic figure that in most cases guarantees a player a spot in the Hall of Fame.
I don't consider myself to be that old, but I was amazed when I looked at the all-time home run list and realized I had seen 47 of the 51, either in person or on live TV. The ones I wasn't born early enough to see included Mel Ott, number 23 on the list with 511, number 18 Ted Williams at 521, number 17 Jimmie Foxx at 534 and of course the immortal Babe Ruth at number 3 with 714. Of those four, I was even fortunate enough to have seen Williams in person when he and Joe DiMaggio appeared at the 1991 All-Star Game in Toronto.
I guess my point is home run hitting beyond a select few didn't really begin to take off until the likes of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider took centre stage in the 1950's and then took another quantum leap in the steroid era that began in the late '80's.
Two of the greatest hitters of all-time, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, hit 103 and 101 home runs respectively in careers that lasted over 20 years apiece.
Funny that Wally Pipp, the man Lou Gehrig replaced at first base with the Yankees, hit 90 homers in the Majors. Gehrig, who set the longest consecutive games played streak (until it was surpassed by Cal Ripken Jr.) went on to hit 493 home runs.
Pujols was the first player in five years to reach the 500 figure and that made me wonder, who might be next? Then I wondered if Pujols could possibly be the last. I won't likely live long enough to answer that question, but there are still a couple of players who have a shot in the next two or three years if they stick around that long.
Adam Dunn, the White Sox prodigious slugger, should reach 500. He's only 34 and just hit his 445th homer, a monster shot over the scoreboard at Comerica Park this week. Dunn made noises about retiring last season, when the White Sox kept piling up loss after loss. But Chicago's decent start this year and the lure of 500 will probably keep him around for a couple of more seasons. David Ortiz, the face of the Red Sox, is four years older at 38, but he only needs 65 more dingers to reach 500. He's got a shot.
The next group of three falls into the unlikely category. Cleveland's Jason Giambi has 438 homers, but he's 43 years old. Dunn's White Sox teammate Paul Konerko has 434 but isn't playing much these days and intends to retire at the end of the season. The Yankees' Alfonso Soriano like Konerko is 38, but only has 410. He would have to hit 40-45 this year to have a chance. The funny thing is of those five players only Ortiz would appear to have a shot at the Hall of Fame. Konerko is a definite maybe, but the steroid connection could keep Giambi out. Since Dunn was so one dimensional, he could become the first to hit 500 homers who won't make it to Cooperstown.
Further down the list you have the Rangers' 35-year-old third baseman Adrian Beltre who was 376 homers. It could be a stretch for him considering his age and the fact he has already been on the disabled list this season. Tigers mega-star Miguel Cabrera may take another three or four years, but should crack 500. He has 367 now and is only 31. The Yankees' Carlos Beltran is only four homers behind "Miggy" at 363, but he is 37. Prince Fielder, who appeared to be a lock a couple of years ago, is sitting on 287 at age 30. Seven more years averaging 30 homers a season and he'd have a chance.
Incidently, the top active Blue Jays home run hitter is Jose Bautista at 217, followed by Edwin Encarnacion at 196.
If I had to bet, I'd say Cabrera and Dunn will be the only two to reach 500 in the next two to four years. It could be a long wait, if ever, before it happens again after that.
One last note on the chase for 500 homers. Phillies slugging first baseman Ryan Howard reached 100 homers quicker than anyone in history in 2007.
Then in 2009 he arrived at 200 faster than anybody else. Now into his fifth season since then, thanks in large part to injuries, his pace has dropped off and he's hit 316 homers. At 34, 500 for Ryan Howard is little more than a dream.
The odds of any of us seeing another 300-game winning pitcher are even more remote. The top active pitcher right now is Yankees lefty C.C. Sabathia at 208. He's 33, but more than that, he's not quite the dominating pitcher he was two years ago and had elbow concerns last year. The Giants' Tim Hudson is right behind him at 207 victories, but he's 38.
After those two you dip down to the ageless Bartolo Colon of the Mets with 191 victories. The fourth-highest active pitcher in terms of victories is Blue Jays wily veteran lefty Mark Buehrle. At 35, he has 190 victories against 142 losses with a 3.81 ERA.
For Hall of Fame voters, 250 victories could become the new 300 in the very near future. Considering his iron man innings stats Buehrle could at least bump himself into the Cooperstown conversation, with another four or five years of 13 or 14 wins.
On The Mark
Speaking of Buehrle, he takes his 4-0 record into a vital three-game set with Boston this weekend at Rogers Centre. Buehrle will be pitching in the series opener on Friday night against Bosox righty Jake Peavy. The Jays have slipped back to .500 at 11-11 after giving up solid leads at home in their last two games and getting shellacked by Baltimore.
The Jays have now fallen to 4-5 at home and 6-7 against the AL East. This three-game set against Boston pretty well completes the first 25 per cent segment against the East. Right now Toronto is sitting in third place, one game up on Tampa Bay and one-and-a-half up on last place Boston. At the very least the Blue Jays need to take two out of three to stop the bleeding before they hit the road for Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Getting swept by Boston could drop the Jays into the cellar and start the same snowball rolling that saw them tumble to 73 and 74 wins the last two seasons.