Monday, August 6, 2007

A Look at the 500 Home Run Club

Now that AlexRod has finally joined the fabled 500 Home Run Club, it's time to examine what that milestone really means in twenty-aught-seven. A lot of writers and analysts have claimed that reaching 500 home runs has become devalued due to the steroids era, and argued that joining the club should no longer guarantee election to the Hall of Fame.

22 players have hit 500 or more home runs, which still seems like a pretty exclusive club. How much impact have PEDs really had on the current members? I realize this is an exercize in guesswork, and I will probably have my Baseball Prospectus membership revoked for even trying this, but let's see if we can figure out what the 500 club would look like in a world without steroids. I'm basing this entirely on conjecture and innuendo, with absolutely no evidence to support my theories, because that's how I do.

14 of the 22 sluggers on the list played their careers entirely in the pre-steroids era. Of course, many of them had other advantages (segregated leagues, small ballparks, batting against 1920s girlymen pitchers, etc.) but steroids supposedly represent the true threat to the game's integrity, so we'll stay focused on that.

Barry Bonds has 755 home runs. He has taken steroids. He would undoubtedly have still reached 500 and beyond even if his head forever remained its natural size. So he's in.

Sammy Sosa has 604 home runs, and because he has been caught cheating and I hate his guts, I'm going to assume he would not have reached 500 homers without the benefit of animal semen injected into his biceps nightly. 105 homers is a small enough total that the strenghtening and recovery-period-shortneing powers of HGH and steroids could account for. Sammy's out.

Ol' Marky Mark McGwire's at 583. Due to his long and varied injury history, I'll again make the argument that he would be under 500 if he had played clean his entire career. Sorry, Charlie, you're outro.

Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas are beyond reproach, without even whispers of their guilt. Same with ARod, no matter what Jose Canseco is getting ready to accuse him of. Eddie Murray is an old man and played most of his career before steroids were prevalent. All in.

Raffy Palmeiro clubbed 569, and tested positive for steroids. His was a strange career path. It's borderline, but he's out.

So, in our imaginary world, we're booting three players from the club, and that's admittedly a stretch. Is three measly hitters really such a big enough difference that the number 500 somehow doesn't mean what it used to mean? I don't think so. Unless a player is dogged by steroid rumors, like McGwire, hitting 500 home runs should still be an automatic ticket to Cooperstown. For now. We'll see what happens when the likes of Jim Thome start getting there.

The bottom line is that ARod just joined a very small, still exclusive list of the greatest power hitters of all time. It's an amazing accomplishment, and amazing becomes ridiculous when you consider his age. Congratulations, ARod, and let's all hope you're still in pinstripes when you hit number 600.