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500 The Hard Way
2003-05-11 23:33
by Mike Carminati

Rafael Palmeiro finally passed the 500-home run milestone today in fromt of his hometown fans in Arlington. He is the second man, after Sammy Sosa, to pass the milestone this year. They soon may be joined by Fred McGriff (483). Ken Griffey Jr. (469) is also a longshot to reach 500 given that he is still recovering from an injury.

Some will say that the glut of home runs has caused the 500-homer explosion this season. Some will say that Palmeiro's presence on the selective list cheapens it somehow. Some will say that Palmeiro should be the first 500-dinger man kept out of the Hall once he retires. I've already debunked the watered-down 500-HR theory.

As for Palmeiro's enshrinement, keeping him out would be unprecedented. He will be a litmus test for future home-run hitters, just like Don Sutton was for pitchers. Sutton won 300 games but many felt that he was not a Hall-of-Fame type pitcher. Therefore, many criticized his induction feeling that the Hall was watered down enough with various Ross Youngses and Travis Jacksons. However, as Bill James argued, keeping a player out of the Hall who is clearly qualified is as bad as if not worse than letting underqualified players, such as Youngs and Jackson. If the Hall capriciously readjusts its de facto to prevent more modern players out, then it becomes a dying institution. Given that Palmeiro surpasses most of the established standards, according to James' criteria, keeping him out of the Hall is a dangerous proposition. (For the record, Palmeiro qualifies for three of the four James' tests: he falls short in the Black Ink test, but given that there are a great deal more players since expansion, very few modern players exceed the established crietrion.)

Palmeiro is probably the least likely 500-homer hitter that you can find. Though his current record streak of eight straight seasons with at least 38 home runs is often cited, Palmeiro did not collect more than 26 in a season until 1993 at the age of 28. He had only collected 95 homers in his 6+ previous seasons. That's the least by that age for any who hit 500. It should be pointed out that Palmeiro was always a very good hitter even in these early years: his OPS was between 21% and 55% better than the adjusted league average in every full season but one before his 28th birthday.

Here is a breakdown of the number of home runs hit by the members of the 500 HR club (plus Fred McGriff) at various stages of their careers (i.e., the season in which they were the given age for the bulk of the season):

By 20
NameTot HRHRs
Mel Ott51119
Mickey Mantle53613
Harmon Killebrew5734
Jimmie Foxx5343
Babe Ruth7140
By 25
NameTot HRHRs
Eddie Mathews512190
Mel Ott511176
Jimmie Foxx534174
Mickey Mantle536173
Frank Robinson586165
Hank Aaron755140
Ted Williams521127
Willie Mays660116
Eddie Murray504111
Reggie Jackson563100
Barry Bonds62384
Harmon Killebrew57384
Mark McGwire58384
Sammy Sosa50570
Ernie Banks51265
Willie McCovey52164
Mike Schmidt54855
Fred McGriff48354
Babe Ruth71449
Rafael Palmeiro50033
By 28
NameTot HRHRs
Jimmie Foxx534302
Eddie Mathews512299
Mickey Mantle536280
Mel Ott511275
Frank Robinson586262
Hank Aaron755253
Harmon Killebrew573223
Willie Mays660216
Eddie Murray504198
Babe Ruth714197
Reggie Jackson563189
Ernie Banks512183
Mark McGwire583178
Barry Bonds623176
Sammy Sosa505171
Mike Schmidt548169
Willie McCovey521165
Ted Williams521165
Fred McGriff483156
Rafael Palmeiro50095
By 30
NameTot HRHRs
Jimmie Foxx534379
Mickey Mantle536374
Eddie Mathews512370
Hank Aaron755342
Mel Ott511342
Frank Robinson586324
Harmon Killebrew573297
Babe Ruth714284
Willie Mays660279
Sammy Sosa505273
Ernie Banks512269
Barry Bonds523259
Eddie Murray504258
Reggie Jackson563254
Mike Schmidt548235
Willie McCovey521232
Mark McGwire583229
Fred McGriff483228
Ted Williams521222
Rafael Palmeiro500155
From 30 on
NameTot HRHRs
Babe Ruth714430
Hank Aaron755413
Willie Mays660381
Barry Bonds623364
Mark McGwire583354
Rafael Palmeiro500345
Mike Schmidt548313
Reggie Jackson563309
Ted Williams521299
Willie McCovey521289
Harmon Killebrew573276
Frank Robinson586262
Fred McGriff483255
Eddie Murray504246
Ernie Banks512243
Sammy Sosa505232
Mel Ott511169
Mickey Mantle536162
Jimmie Foxx534155
Eddie Mathews512142

Note that Palmeiro made up for his lack of home runs in his youth with a devotion to the stat in his old age. He ranks sixth all-time in home runs after turning 30.

If he matches his post-30 average of around 42 in 2003, he would rank 12th all-time (barring what Sosa does). That would put him firmly in Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle territory. I don't know if he can keep it up at his age, but two such seasons (42 HRs) would put him seventh all-time right behind another first baseman by the name of McGwire. 600 home runs are not out of the question for Palmeiro.

Could he hit 600 and still be barred from the Coopertown. It seems too incredible to think.

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