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Griffey could have company soon
06/20/2004  4:00 PM ET
Ken Griffey Jr. is the 20th member of the 500-homer club and the fourth to join the elite group in the last three years, following Barry Bonds (2001), Sammy Sosa (2003) and Rafael Palmeiro (2003).

They may soon have company.

Tampa Bay's Fred McGriff, with 493 and counting as of June 18, is the man on deck for 500.

McGriff, 40, hit a career-low 13 homers in 86 games for the Dodgers last season. This year, playing in Tropicana Field -- a more hitter-friendly park -- McGriff makes him a lock to reach 500 provided he continues to receive regular playing time with the Devil Rays.

If not McGriff, the next member of the 500 club will probably be Kansas City's Juan Gonzalez.

The Royals right fielder doesn't turn 35 until October and already has 434 career homers. With the exception of an injury-shortened 2002, Gonzalez has averaged 36 homers per season since 1995. If he maintains just 60 percent of that pace he would hit his 500th homer early in the 2006 season. If he stays healthy, Gonzalez could reach 500 by the end of next season.

After McGriff and Gonzalez, the 500-homer club will likely have to wait two years or more before it welcomes another new member.

Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox and Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros, a pair of slugging 36-year-old first basemen who were born on the same day (May 27, 1968) and whose careers are also statistically similiar in many ways, both have an above-average shot to join the 500 club during the next three years.

Thomas has 435 career home runs, Bagwell 430. After playing just 20 games in 2001 because of injury, Thomas has belted 80 homers (through May 31) since Opening Day of 2002. A career .310 hitter, at his current pace Thomas should eclipse 500 within two years.

Bagwell passed Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams for 32nd place on the all-time list when he hit his 427th career homer in late May. He remains a force offensively and has hit 31 or more homers each of the last eight seasons.

Bagwell plays every day and plays his home games in a favorable park for power hitters. He is also signed through 2006 with a club option for 2007, so barring any significant lost time to injuries Bagwell has a decent shot at hitting No. 500 as soon as 2006.

The road to 500-homer club membership is a lot longer for the next tier of candidates, which includes Philadelphia's Jim Thome, Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees and Manny Ramirez of Boston. All are far enough along on the home run list and yet still young enough to project a curve that would carry them past 500 career homers.

The only difference is they have further to go and will need more time.

Thome, who turns 34 in August, has 402 career dingers and shows no signs of slowing down. Sheffield, 34, has 389, while Ramirez, only 32, has 365.

Right behind Ramirez is Rodriguez, who like Griffey 10 years ago is widely considered a lock to reach 500. Rodriguez doesn't turn 29 until July 27, and yet he's already hit 361 home runs.

At his current pace Rodriguez will hit No. 500 during the 2007 season, when he would be all of 32 years old.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.