Monday, June 21, 2004

I see that Ken Griffey Jr. finally hit his 500th home run yesterday, after having been stuck on number 499 for over a week. Junior becomes only the 20th player in Major League history to reach that plateau.

In days past, the 500 home run mark has conferred instant Hall of Fame status. Indeed, there is no eligible player with 500 or more dingers who's not in the Hall.

One wonders, though, whether it will continue to be a Hall of Fame benchmark. Most people have tagged Griffey for the Hall for years, though his stock has slipped substantially in his past few injury-plagued seasons. But even granting for the sake of argument that Griffey is a Hall of Famer, the list is becoming more and more suspect in an era of smaller ballparks and weaker pitching.

Not many noticed when Rafael Palmiero quietly snuck onto the 500 homer list last season. Indeed, he's currently 11th on the all time list (sitting on 538), ahead of Mickey Mantle. Now don't get me wrong. Palmiero is a fine ballplayer. But does anyone really think Rafael Palmiero is a Hall of Famer?

Up until the 1990's, only 14 players had ever reached the 500 homer mark in Major League history. Since the 90's began, six players have already made the list, and Fred McGriff is due to make it in the next month or two (he currently has 493 homers). Juan Gonzalez, Jeff Bagwell, and Frank Thomas are all within striking distance. If Fred McGriff is a Hall of Famer, then so are Joe Carter, Dwight Evans, and about a hundred other guys who aren't currently there.

500 home runs is an impressive accomplishment, no doubt about it. But it is no longer the "magic number" for Hall of Fame entrance that 3000 hits or 300 wins is.

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