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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 11, 2011 at 11:01 PM

As Jim Thome nears entry, the 600-HR club still has meaning

thome.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

For a long while, baseball fans were experiencing home-run fatigue, if not outright home-run resentment.

The blasts were coming so fast and furious, with certain individuals reaching such absurd homer totals, that previously hallowed milestones ceased to move us as much as they used to.

On Aug. 9, 2002, Barry Bonds powered past 600 — rarified territory previously reached only by Babe Ruth (on Aug. 21, 1931), Willie Mays (Sept. 22, 1969) and Hank Aaron (April 27, 1971). Close on Bonds’ heels were Sammy Sosa (June 20, 2007), Ken Griffey Jr. (June 9, 2008), and Alex Rodriguez (Aug. 4, 2010).

To recap, Ruth stood as the only 600-HR guy for 38 years, when Aaron and Mays did it in a span of less than two years. And then there was another gap of 31 years until Bonds joined the club. But as you know, normalcy on the power front was skewed in that era, and Bonds was followed by three more 600-HR sluggers in the span of eight years (and Mark McGwire certainly would have joined them had he not retired, at age 37, after the 2001 season, sitting at 583 homers).

The ugly specter of steroids entered the equation, of course. Of the 21st century entrants into the 600-HR club, only Griffey has been untainted by allegations of steroids use — and it is my perception that the reception to Griffey’s feat was therefore warmer and more heartfelt than the others.

Now, knocking on the door to 600, is Minnesota’s Jim Thome, who like Griffey has never been linked in any way to juicing. Because of that, and by virtue of the fact that he has long been regarded as one of the true gentleman of the sport, Thome will be feted with gusto, I expect, when he blasts No. 600 in the upcoming days.

I think a subtle change is occuring now that a reasonable drug-testing program is in place and home-run totals are returning to normalcy. I believe 600 is going to regain its stature as an elite achievement, mainly because there will no longer be a proliferation of members, and those that make it will be farther and farther removed from the so-called steroids era. After Thome, Albert Puolsj is next in line with 435. He’s just 31, and shouldn’t have any trouble getting 165 more bombs — though that’s still no gimme.

Technically, Vlad Guerrero and Chipper Jones, both with 445, are ahead of Pujols, but they’re either too old, or too broken down, or both, to be serious threats for 600 (or perhaps even 500).

After that, tell me which of these active players with at least 300 homers you see getting to 600: Jason Giambi (425), Andruw Jones (414), Paul Konerko (391), David Ortiz (372), Adam Dunn (365), Lance Berkman (355), Todd Helton (346), Carlos Lee (342), Alfonso Soriano (334), Derrek Lee (326), Ivan Rodriguez (311), Aramis Ramirez (309), Scott Rolen (308), Mark Teixeira (307), and Miguel Tejada (304). Most are longshots, at best, and none are sure things.

After that, you can look at a bunch of impressive young hitters, but there’s absolutely no way of knowing how their careers are going to develop. You can see the list yourself here.

The point is that 600 homers, after the power proliferation of a warped era, is on the verge of becoming a rare and sacred event, as it should be. So savor Jim Thome’s accomplishment, and don’t expect to see it many times again.

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