Who's next for 600 home run club?
Sosa, A-Rod may reach mark some day
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Get your calculators ready. Time to do some baseball math.
Only four players have reached 600 home runs -- Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660) and now Barry Bonds.
Sammy Sosa also has a shot -- the Chicago Cubs outfielder will likely join the 500 homer club this year and is averaging 61 home runs the last four seasons. Do the math: Sosa would need two more seasons to hit 600.
"You think of all the thousands of guys who have played the game of baseball and only three have gone by it," Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "There's probably a lot of guys with the talent to hit that many but they obviously have to stay healthy, No. 1, so it says a lot for a player's durability and, obviously, talent."
Health is a key factor. Mark McGwire seemed on pace to join the exclusive 600 club. No brainer, right? Injuries ended Big Mac's bid at 583, fifth on the all-time list. Frank Robinson is fourth with 586.
"There are three people who have 600 now in the history of the game so it's not something that happens all the time," said Houston's Jeff Bagwell, no stranger to the long ball himself. He started the year with 349.
"It takes a long time in your career to hit 600 home runs," Bagwell said. "That's the hard part: the longevity to stay in the game long enough to do that and to stay at the level long enough to do that. As you get older, sometimes you're not as good as you used to be. Barry's gotten better. It's just something that's not easy to do."
As players get older, those 95 mph fastballs look like they're zipping past at 195 mph.
"It's probably more timing (that you lose)," Bagwell said. "You're not as quick as you used to be. Guys slow down when they get old."
Which means the candidates are likely young guys with plenty of pop.
"I think you have to start with A-Rod," Seattle hitting coach Gerald Perry said of Texas' Alex Rodriguez. "He's still only 26 and already has almost 300. If he stays healthy, there's no telling how many he will hit. I mean, here he is, only 26 years old and already is the best player in baseball, in my opinion."
Rodriguez, the Rangers shortstop, is the second youngest player in Major League history to reach 250 homers. He did so in 26 years, 277 days on May 1 in Toronto.
"Alex has to be the most likely because he has such a head start on almost everyone else," said Rangers third base coach Steve Smith. "Among the under 30 guys, he is far and away the best bet to do it. He hit 36 home runs when he was 21 years old and has hit at least 30 almost every year since. I don't know how old Jason Giambi is but I think Alex had 100 home runs before (Giambi) had any."
Well, not exactly. Both hit their first big league homers in 1995. Rodriguez was just younger. He is the fourth fastest to 100 -- Mel Ott was first, doing so at 22 years, 132 days. Ott finished with 511 home runs.
Ott also was the youngest to reach 200 career homers -- Rodriguez is fifth. But it took Ott three years, 12 days between his 100th and 200th home runs. Rodriguez collected his second century of homers in two years, 273 days.
"Alex would be my first choice," Seattle pitcher Ryan Franklin said. "All he has to do is do the same thing for the next 10 years what he's done for the last five years."
Rodriguez is averaging 44 home runs a season the last four years. He will celebrate his 27th birthday on July 27. He's got the power and the potential; he just plays one of the toughest positions in the game.
"You've got to feel that Alex Rodriguez has a chance because he's the youngest of everybody," said Hall of Famer Billy Williams, who finished his career with 426 home runs. "The way Sammy and Barry are going, it looks like Barry has about three more years and if he averages 45, 50 home runs -- which is chicken feed to these guys -- he could reach it."
However, Williams notes that it takes two to homer.
"Barry might have less of a chance because pitchers don't pitch to him as much," Williams said. "They pitch around Sammy every now and then. Barry's pretty disciplined at the plate. He might not get the at-bats. Sammy will make contact and he's strong enough to hit over the right-field fence and left-field fence."
Sosa is Lance Berkman's pick to click.
"I think he is the guy who has the most legitimate chance to do it," the Astros outfielder said. "Sammy keeps himself in pretty good shape and I think he definitely has a chance.
"It would take a pretty remarkable player and set of circumstances to accomplish that," Berkman said. "After seeing Mark hit 70 and Barry hit 73 in a season, I thought there was no way that could happen."
Cubs hitting coach Jeff Pentland, who was Bonds' college coach at Arizona State, has no doubt Sosa can do it.
"I think Sammy can hit 700," Pentland said.
Wow. Imagine the scene at Wrigley Field if he did.
"Guys keep getting bigger and stronger and better and better, so I don't see any reason there wouldn't be (someone to reach 600)," Astros hitting coach Harry Spilman said. "Barry's going to do it. Sammy, too. (Rafael) Palmeiro is getting close to 500. There could be a few guys in the next few years to reach a goal not many guys are able to do."
Griffey got off to a blistering start, hitting 40 or more homers for five consecutive seasons from 1996-2000. He was projected to be the first of this generation to join Aaron, Ruth and Mays.
"We always said if someone was to break Hank Aaron's record that they had to come up in the big leagues when they were 19 or 20 and be real consistent," said Cubs first baseman Fred McGriff, who was closing in on 500 this year. "Ken Griffey Jr. was on a great pace when he started but then he got hurt. You have to stay healthy.
"When I was coming up, you thought that hitting 30 (homers) was a big deal," McGriff said. "Now, that level on the playing field has changed."
How about St. Louis' Albert Pujols? Or Atlanta's Andruw Jones? Those are Pentland's picks.
"Another guy is (Montreal's) Vladimir Guerrero," Perry said. "I have seen him hit a pitch up in his eyes for a home run and then come up and hit a ball at his shoe tops for a home run. He has unbelievable power.
"Another guy is (Anaheim's Troy) Glaus," Perry said. "I read the other day that he already has more than 120 home runs and he's still young. Guys like (Cincinnati's) Adam Dunn, (Philadelphia's) Pat Burrell and Scott Rolen in the National League are other young hitters with a lot of power."
What's the secret? It's pretty simple.
"Guys have to stay healthy and play for 20 years to get it done," Pentland said.
"They need to average 35 to 40 homers a year," Williams said.
It won't be easy to do, although it depends on your point of view.
"Six hundred home runs -- it's just like guys getting 300 wins," Houston manager Jimy Williams said. "It's going to be rarer and rarer."
"In my opinion, hitting 600 home runs now is what hitting 500 was years ago," said Franklin, 29, who has seen nothing but homers in his era. "Hitters are so much stronger and bigger now. If Babe Ruth had used Creatine instead of eating hot dogs and drinking beer, he might have hit 900 home runs."
The key may be whether players stick around long enough to reach the magical mark. Ruth and Mays played 22 seasons each, Aaron 23. McGwire quit after 15-plus years.
This is Sosa's 13th season. He turns 34 in November. This year, he has reached 30 home runs for the eighth consecutive year. Aaron did that in seven straight seasons.
And Konerko? He was included in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game. Does he ever dream of 600 home runs?
"No way -- never in a million years," he said. "I'd have to play 10 more years hitting 50 a year.
"All you can say is you're happy to play at the same time in the Major Leagues as a guy that might go down with the most or be right up there," he said.
Keep those calculators handy.
Carrie Muskat is a writer for MLB.com. Jim Street and Jimmy Greenfield also contributed to this report. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.