It seems like there are so many more members of the 500 home run club compared to the 3000 hit club. The last member of the latter club was Craig Biggio. He accomplished the task way back in 2007. There have been five new members of the 500 home run club since that time. There are 27 members of the 3000 hit club and only 25 in the 500 home run club.
Since Biggio's 3000th hit year of 2007, there have been two new entrances to the 600 home run club: Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr.
By the end of 2011, there will only, realistically, be one new member of the 3000 hit club. By the end of 2011, there will be two more 600-club members.
When Willy Mays, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Sammy Sosa reached 600 home runs, they were all 38. When Hank Aaron hit his 600th home run, he was 37. When Babe Ruth did it, he was 36. Assuming Alex Rodriguez does not have a severe, career-threatening injury soon, he will be the youngest to reach 600 home runs. If he reaches the milestone before July 27, he will be 34.
Yet it seems like no one really cares. This isn't 756 or 763, but only six other players have reached the big 600. Maybe the NBA free agency took up enough airtime. Maybe the World Cup fever took away some of the attention. But the World Cup is over and the major free agents have signed. So it has to be something else. Maybe it's because of Rodriguez's steroid past. He only admitted to using steroids last winter.
No one knows the answer. It can be any of those possibilities. But I think it's something else. I think it's related to steroids but not Alex Rodriguez's usage. If it were solely related to that, I think we would be hearing the boos that Barry Bonds heard as he was approaching 756. Like here in Philadelphia. Or here in New York. Or here in San Diego.
Rodriguez did hear boos in Seattle. But that was for a completely different issue, as pointed out here. True, he isn't approaching the home run record like Bonds was, but still.
It is something else. The magical number of 600 used to be a Mount Everest to hitters: a milestone that seemed impossible to reach. However, recent years have proven that, in actuality, it is possible.
Before the new millennium, there were only three sluggers in the 600 home run club. The group has more than doubled now. And it isn't going to stop growing. Jim Thome is probably going to reach it too.
Rodriguez is of that star stature and is annually ranked amongst the league's best players. But Thome? Just list the players: Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Griffey, Mays, Sosa, Rodriguez, Thome. Thome stands out like a sore thumb.
Nothing against Thome. He is certainly a Hall of Famer. In his prime, he was one of the most feared power hitters in baseball. Maybe it was the dragging out of his career or the quick spiral down it has taken that makes him seem so out of place.
Or, maybe it's the fact that Thome has only been home run champion once. Babe Ruth was a 12-time home run champion; Griffey took the title four times, as did Aaron and Mays. Rodriguez has won it thrice; Bonds twice and Sosa twice. It's ironic that most of the recent members represent the bottom of the group in terms of the accolade.
But it is more than that. The six current members of the club have a combined 14 Most Value Player Awards (MVPs). Rodriguez, when he joins, adds another three. Jim Thome doesn't have one MVP distinction.
Some claim him to be an "underrated All-Time great," like netdougout.com. And I think that's a true statement. Just the first and last words really. Jim Thome is completely underrated in baseball standards. He represented a consistent player. And if you dissect the statistics from Thome's prime, he should have won another home run title (in 2002) and should have been in sole possession of the one he co-won in 2003. Both times, admittedly tainted Alex Rodriguez was matching Thome stride for stride.
But in terms of MVP voting, he never would have won one, even when removing the steroid users. In 1997, he came in 6th place. When removing the steroid users/accused, he would have still come in 6th. In 2001, he came in 7th place, but should have come in 4th place. In 2002, he came in 7th place, but should have come in 4th. And those were his best seasons statistically.
The 600 home run club, as well as the 500 home run club, used to be special. A goal that, when reached, should be applauded because it is unique and a rarity. Seven guys who have hit 500 home runs have been accused or admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, however. Two sluggers with 600 home runs have been accused of using steroids. Rodriguez will make it three.
Jim Thome is just a pure power hitter. He never had enough all-around ability to capture an MVP award. And I get it, the home run clubs are supposed to be about that. But if I asked you, "Is Jim Thome the 7th most powerful hitter who ever played baseball?" I would expect your face to scrunch up, a befuddled expression to come across your face and for you to say, confidently, "No."
Well, soon enough, that will be true.
Power hitting has become a normality in the major leagues that even a guy like Andruw Jones may reach 500 home runs. The same Andruw Jones who is hitting .206 this year, as of July 18. The same Andruw Jones who is a career .256 hitter. The same Andruw Jones who was so bad with the Los Angeles Dodgers that they released him during the first year of a two-year, $36.2 million deal. Right now, he is not even close to being a lock for the Hall of Fame.
The problem is that guys like Thome, who had multiple years of hitting more than 40 home runs and one where he hit 52, blend into the background. This Steroid Era of baseball created this massive surge in home runs. From 1921-1995, 46 home runs was reached 58 times. From 1996-2009, the number was reached 56 times. That's an unbelievable jump.
According to Baseball Reference, sixteen out of the seventeen retired players who have hit 500 home runs and are eligible for the Hall of Fame have been inducted. The sole guy left out: Mark McGwire, who recently admitted to using steroids during his career.
Whether or not steroid users should be allowed into the Hall of Fame is another issue to tackle, but the point is, with the number of players hitting over 46 home runs drastically increasing, home run career totals are going to increase, too. This is why you will see guys like Andruw Jones potentially joining the 500-home run club.
Leading up to what used to be an impossible number to reach, maybe Rodriguez will get some boos. But that really hasn't happened yet. It didn't really happen in the Oakland series when he had 597 home runs. People may bring back his steroid usage. But that really hasn't happened since the middle of last year in Baltimore and in Boston.
So when Alex Rodriguez hits that 600th home run, he will be ecstatic. There will be a standing ovation (if he hits it in New York, at least). All of his teammates will congratulate him. It will be breaking news on ESPN. It will be the front page of New York newspapers and several online sites. But that will be it. It won't be some remembered day in history. It may not even be an accomplishment in the future.
The 500 and 600 home run clubs have been starting to feel that affect; the steroid era has tainted them. For good.