03/31/2004 8:00 AM ET
Stars have milestones in sights
History ready to record major accomplishments in 2004
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
Baseball milestones are part of the sacred statistical history of the game, waypoints in players' careers.
Some reflect only personal pride and pass almost unnoticed, yet others stagger the imagination and become part of baseball's lore. Such trail markers will abound this season, as great players -- their legacy already secured -- reach even higher into the mathematical stratosphere, surpassing some of the all-time greats' exploits.
They range from Giants slugging star Barry Bonds eyeing the legendary Willie Mays' immortal 660 career homer mark -- he's only two blasts shy of a tie -- to veteran pitcher Greg Maddux reaching the coveted 300-victory plateau, Mets backstop Mike Piazza overtaking Carlton Fisk for all-time homers by a catcher, and Seattle's Edgar Martinez and Anaheim's Tim Salmon both nearing 300 lifetime homers.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, baseball historians are ready to chisel these players names on these new milestones.
For Bonds, it's a family affair. Mays is godfather and 'second dad' to Bonds, whose father - former Giants' standout Bobby Bonds - died last August. It will be a joyous occasion, No. 661. No tears, except the glistening happy kind, and the Say Hey Kid will be there when it happens.
"We talked about that and he really doesn't want to do it," said Mays. "When we talked the main thing I expressed to him is you have to do what you have to do -- that means pass me, pass Ruth, try to get to Aaron if you can, and that's what it's all about."
Bonds admitted he had issues about surpassing his long-time idol and even asked for Mays' blessing.
"Sure it's going to be hard," said the Giants outfielder. "I thought it would be hard with Willie, but I think it'll be more hard because my dad's not going to be there to see it happen, and that's going to be the toughest thing. But I really wanted to be with the man who's been my icon and make sure that we're both together on this whether I pass him or not."
Eighteen-year veteran right-hander Maddux is 11 wins short of his goal, yet he has put thoughts of 300 on hold, at least temporarily. It could, he muses, be a distraction.
"I honestly haven't thought about it," Maddux said. "I'm just thinking about getting ready for the season. I don't like to get ahead of myself. I feel if I start thinking about that kind of stuff I'll get ahead of myself and I might not ever get there. I'm just going to worry about getting ready for the season and getting ready for my start in five days and enjoy the four days before."
Three hundred career victories. It means staying healthy, being lucky. And being good. Hall of Famer and former Cubs great Ferguson Jenkins knows how significant that stat means to Major League hurlers.
"It's monumental," said Jenkins, who won 284 games, including at least 20 over six consecutive seasons. "I would say it's a ticket to the Hall of Fame. I didn't get there (to 300 wins) but other guys who have won 300 have. It's Hall of Fame status. Because of the longevity and hard work, 300 wins is not something you take for granted because it takes hard work."
Piazza has 347 career homers as a catcher and needs only five to break Carlton Fisk's all-time backstop mark of 351 homers. As with Maddux, Piazza isn't dwelling on the number.
"Usually I try not to think about it," said Piazza. "When I retire, I'll take it all in. As an athlete, you try to keep pushing forward and not look back. That notwithstanding, I can take a second to enjoy milestones like a successful season or a World Series. It [the record] is something that's a nice accomplishment but at the same point, the way the organization has been the last couple of years it takes away a little of the enthusiasm. If we were winning, it would have been nice to fold it [the record] in with a few more accomplishments.
"Passing Johnny Bench  a few years back was nice. But hopefully I have a lot left in the tank. I want to continue to build and finish strong. I've never been a specific goal-oriented person, though."
As for 500 homers. Well, that's a stretch.
"There are a lot of variables," said Piazza, who has 358 total home runs, eleven of which were hit at a position other than catcher. "Health is the most important thing and having a successful team around you. For now, let's just get to 360 and go from there."
Salmon has hit 288 homers and 966 RBIs but wishes 300 blasts and 1,000 RBIs could have happened earlier, before injuries in recent years curtailed his stats. Still, the outfielder is proud of those numbers, the result of hard work and perseverance.
"Anytime you start accumulating numbers that people earmark says a lot for the time you've put in to reach milestones," he said. "You just keep plugging along and the stats kind of sneak up to you. You don't think about them when you're playing, usually only when it's all said and done."
At 35, Salmon has played 12 MLB summers, all with the Angels. That in itself is something to cheer as much as any milestone.
"Without a doubt, being able to stay with one team would mean tremendous pride for me," said Salmon, whose breaking of Brian Downing's
all-time Angel mark of 222 homers in 2000 was also a great achievement.
Martinez is almost a milestone in himself, at 41 still in the game after 17 seasons. Three more homers and he joins Ken Griffey Jr. (398) and Jay Buhner (307) on Seattle's all-time 300 list.
"Three hundred home runs is something I never thought about getting to. I was
more concerned about making it to and staying in the big leagues," said
Martinez. "It is a nice milestone and maybe later it will mean more, but at this
point I am concentrating more on team goals. Thinking about personal goals is a
distraction, I think."
When he reaches 508 doubles (he has 491), he will pass Babe Ruth on the all-time
list and take sole possession of 34th place.
"The Kingdome was a big part of that," he said. "There was a short right-field
wall and it really helped me though most of my career. It was a very
hitter-friendly place and I hit a lot of balls off the wall in right field and
that helped me a lot with the doubles. And the home runs, too."
|Barry Bonds clubbed his 658th home run in a win over the Dodgers on Sept. 26, 2003. (Jon SooHoo/Dodgers)
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. Several MLB.com writers contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.