Paul Konerko is sitting at 381 home runs. The 35-year-old has averaged 32 homers per season in his last six, and he looks to be on pace for 30 to 35 more this year. Erring on the conservative side, let’s say he finishes with 30 dingers — 14 more than his current total. He would finish the 2011 season with 395 career home runs. He has two years remaining on his contract, and as long as he continues to hit like this, he should have no problem DH’ing for another few seasons after that.
Is it far-fetched to think that Konerko couldn’t average at least 21 homers from 2012 to 2016? Because with that average, he’d reach the 500-home-run milestone.
Along with achieving 3,000 hits, or winning 300 games as a pitcher, getting to 500 home runs — insert generic PED disclaimer here — tends to trigger automatic election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But as Chris Cwik covered earlier this week, Konerko is obviously not a Hall-of-Fame player. Even if he joins the 500-home-run club, he’s unlikely to garner much HoF support, which is interesting because it would mean the milestone isn’t what it used to be.
With that idea, let’s discuss other players who might buck the milestone trend. These players would have achieved grand milestones almost under the radar, and would be considered longshots for the hall of fame despite their accomplishments.
Before getting to the players, it should be clear that everyone mentioned here has had a solid career. This exercise isn’t intended to diminish their accomplishments, but rather to illustrate the different journeys toward the same endpoint — and how certain routes are more impressive than others. Ichiro Suzuki should finish this season — his 11th — with 2,400 hits. Recording that many hits in such a short span is vastly more impressive than Omar Vizquel and his 2,800-plus hits over 22 seasons. There are different, and more noteworthy, ways to join these clubs.
Let it be known that the goal of this exercise is to look at the players who might achieve milestones but wouldn’t be considered Hall-of-Fame worthy on the merits of their production. In other words, this isn’t a steroids witch hunt.
This group isn’t going to include Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire. Instead, it will include a few players who have a decent shot at reaching 500 home runs but who might not be elected even without a performance-enhancing cloud.
The White Sox slugger might reach 500 home runs but he’s never really been considered one of the best first basemen in the game. Now, some of that hinges on media coverage, but the majority stems from the fact that he just hasn’t been otherworldly at the plate. He has been able to rack up home runs and has played better at ages 33, 34 and 35 than he did in his age 30, 31 and 32 seasons. Konerko has never produced more than 4-WAR in a season — usually due to poor fielding marks — and his career .367 wOBA is nice, but underwhelming for the Hall of Fame. Konerko might be the Fred McGriff of this era — a guy with solid overall numbers who consistently produced at the plate, but was never perceived to be elite.
He debuted in 2001 and hit 19 home runs in 66 games and 286 plate appearances as a 21-year-old, which reads like the beginning of a Hall-of-Fame career. From ages 24 to 30, here are his home run totals: 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38. An absolutely laughable fielder — he plays like I imagine Will Ferrell would play the field in a baseball movie — Dunn’s candidacy would be heavily reliant on his bat. Though he has been around for a decade, he is still just 31 years old and has 361 dingers. His numbers have left much to be desired this season, but it’s doubtful he has completely cratered.
Hard to imagine he won’t get to 500 home runs, but when he does, there’s enough (aside from media coverage and his perceived ability as a hitter) to keep him out. A saber darling in every way, it seems Dunn simply doesn’t pass that “smell test” for Cooperstown inductees.
From 1997 to 2007, here are his UZR marks in center field: 27, 35, 36, 25, 27, 16, 18, 24, 26, 13, 23. Go through them one more time. That is an average of 25 runs saved above average per year, at arguably the toughest position on the field. If he were a league average hitter, he’d still be worth more than three wins in all 11 of those seasons. But Jones was more than a league-average hitter. He hit .263/.343/.498 with a 114 OPS+ in that span. At 70.4 WAR already, he has impressive Hall-of-Fame credentials. Still, it remains to be seen whether voters will punish him for a steep drop-off in the latter portion of his career.
This group hasn’t taken much of a beating over the last decade, aside from Palmeiro, as PED usage is generally linked to power and slugging, and not an overall ability to hit. It also is easy to see why 3,000 hits triggers an automatic election, as it would basically entail something like 12 to 15 seasons of elite performance with a solid decline, or decent performance spread over 18-plus seasons. Then again, players don’t last more than 12 years without having some studly in them, so this club really is for guys who would get to the milestone without really being considered in the top two or three at their positions.
Omar Vizquel: If Vizquel gets into the Hall of Fame, his defense will play a starring role. Some have compared him to Ozzie Smith in that neither hit all that well, but both were exemplary fielders for an extended period of time. While it would take Vizquel almost a quarter-century to record 3,000 hits — he has 2,823 so far through 22 seasons — it might be hard to keep him out if he achieves that milestone to supplement his perceived fielding prowess. The hit milestone alone might not get him in — given how long it will take him to tally the amount — but the total package might be enough for voters.
Johnny Damon: This is Damon’s age-37 season, and he’s projected to finish the year with 2,724 hits. He would need 276 more to reach 3,000, and whether that comes in the form of 138-a-year for two years or 92-a-year for three years, there’s a real possibility that he puts the milestone trigger to the test before anyone else on this list. If Damon sticks around for a few more seasons, moving into a designated hitter role for a year or two, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that he’d join this exclusive club. He’d be the epitome of a fringe HoFer, however, since he never had notably tremendous seasons — surpassing 4.5 WAR only twice.
Honorable mentions here to Edgar Renteria, Michael Young, and Garret Anderson. Renteria seemed to be on pace for 3,000 hits a few years ago, but his career looks to be done at this point. Young should finish this season with 2,000, and is 35 years old. He has also averaged 180 hits over the last three seasons. He is a longshot, but it isn’t inconceivable. Anderson actually gave me this idea a few years ago, and while he is retired, his 2,529 hits came close to putting voters in an awkward position.
This feat is going to occur less often in the future than the other two, given the usage patterns for pitchers. Freaks of nature like Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia might end up in the 250 to 270 range, but it’s unlikely that many hurlers will reach 300 wins again. If someone does, he’ll have to have the durability of the one man who has a chance of achieving the milestone without ever being considered among the game’s best.
Jamie Moyer: At 267 wins, Moyer needs only 33 victories to potentially become the last 300-game winner for a long, long time. He’ll miss the entire season due to injury, but he has said repeatedly that he plans to return. His skill-set seems age-proof at this point, and if he gets to 300 wins as a 50-year old pitcher, doesn’t he have to get in on novelty alone?
So what say ‘ye? Which of the guys above will reach their milestones, and will any get into the Hall of Fame if they do?