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03/23/2007 Archived Entry: "2007 Milestones Preview, Part I: Homers"
By Michael Toeset
Barry at the Bat
If Barry Bonds’ season was a TV script that baseball fans were writing, it probably would end something like the Simpsons’ “Homer at the Bat” episode: Instead of getting the home run he needs to break Hank Aaron’s record, Bonds gets plunked in the head and lies at the plate unconscious as the season comes to an end.
And that’s what adds some extra drama to Bonds’ historic home run chase: There probably will be more people rooting that he fails than there will be rooting that he breaks the record (unless of course you’re a fan in the bleachers come record-breaking day).
With 734 homers to his credit, the much-vilified Bonds has a legitimate shot at breaking Aaron’s record of 755 this season. That’s just 22 home runs. Even a falling-apart Bonds can manage that; he had 26 last year in 493 plate appearances.
So love him or hate him, Bonds is going to be in the news an awful lot this season. And if he does happen to break Hammerin’ Hank’s record, well, it will be something to tell your grandkids. A new all-time home run king doesn’t come around all that often. …
This season could see the largest “induction” of 500-homer club members ever. Four players are a safe bet to reach the 500 plateau this year – Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez – and one player has an outside shot at making it – Gary Sheffield.
Thomas leads the hopefuls with 487 homers. Assuming the Big Hurt’s 2006 resurgence was for real, he easily should join the elite club of 20 players. Thomas hit 39 home runs last season and now moves out of a pitcher’s park and into a hitter’s park (Toronto).
Thome is next with 472 homers. Last season was a comeback year for Thome, too, and he bashed 42 round-trippers in Chicago, where he’ll be at it again.
Ramirez is right behind Thome with 470 homers. As long as his grill isn’t a distraction, Ramirez easily is good for another 35 homers – and probably more.
Rodriguez, the youngest of the bunch at 30 (30!), has 464 career homers and is coming off a 35-homer year. Even if he’s not in New York by season’s end, A-Rod will be in the 500 club.
Sheffield, who is looking for a Thomas/Thome-type comeback season after only hitting 6 home runs last season, has 455 career homers. Sheffield moves to a pitcher’s park in Detroit, and his season homer high is 43, so the odds are against him hitting the needed 45 homers to join the club this season.
Speaking of season highs, the list for the hopefuls:
Thomas: 43 (2000)
Thome: 52 (2002)
Ramirez: 45 (1998, 2005)
Rodriguez: 57 (2002)
Already in the Club
Two other players already in the 500 club will attempt to add to their totals this season.
Former Greatest American Hero Sammy Sosa stands at 588 career home runs. Now that he’s made the Rangers, he can focus on trying to join the ultra-elite 600 club and move closer to Willie Mays’ 660 homers. While it would take a miracle – or cyborg arms – for Sosa to even come close to Mays this season, he should be able to hang on to a job long enough to join the 600 club.
Ken Griffey is the other 500 player. At 563 career homers, a good season would leapfrog him from No. 10 on the list to No. 6. Of course, that’s always a big if. (Side note: The Onion recently lampooned Griffey, and it had me rolling. The headline says it all: “Slight Breeze Shatter Ken Griffey Jr.’s Femur.”) With his first home run of the season, Griffey will break the tie he currently is in with Reggie Jackson. And don’t forget: the luckless Junior still is able to hit the long ball; he had 27 last year in an abbreviated campaign, and 35 the year before (also abbreviated – of course).