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Has the 500-club been diminished?

Aug 12, 2009, 10:20 AM EDT

The conventional wisdom these days is that the 500 home-run club is not what it used to be.  Some have even suggested — not unreasonably, I’ll grant — that merely hitting 500 home runs is not the automatic ticket to Cooperstown it once was.  I mean, after all, 10 dudes have entered the 500-club in roughly the last decade.

But as Matt Carruth notes over at FanGraphs notes, this isn’t the first time a large number of guys entered that club in a short period of time. To wit, between September 13th, 1965 and September 13th, 1971 seven players hit number 500: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, and Frank Robinson.  As Matt notes:

This era is largely being remembered for it lessening the importance of the 500 home run club. That is understandable in the sense that we now view most everything from the 1990s and 2000s with an air of suspicion and that the list of members did grow from 15 to its present 25 in just ten years. However, looking back to the 1965-71 period, does ten new members in ten years look much different than seven in six years?

Sure, there are differences. The guys who joined the 500 club between 1965 and 1971 were facing much, much more difficult conditions in which to hit than were the guys from the 1990s. The parks were bigger, the mounds were higher, and the strikezone was much larger in the 1960s than it was today.  And that’s before you even get into the PED issue.

But Matt’s observation does suggest, however, that in assessing the value of 500 home runs today, we have to do a little more work than to merely note, as some do, that the milestone is not all that special anymore, because there was a previous time when it wasn’t all that special too, relatively speaking.  The why’s of it all matter. 

  1. Steve McKenna - Aug 12, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    Yes, the club has been diminished. Smaller ballparks and lower pitching mounds are one of the biggest reasons. I mean, come on, look at the new Yankee stadium. Its a joke. If Johnny Damon played in the new Yankee stadium his whole career he would hit 500 home runs!

  2. Bill - Aug 12, 2009 at 11:07 AM

    I bet there are articles from 1970 or so about how hitting 500 homers meant something back when Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx were doing it. It did take Killebrew four years to get into the Hall.

  3. Mike Eller - Aug 12, 2009 at 11:46 AM

    It’s true that reaching 500 home runs is easier today than it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I keep hearing that Jim Thome and Fred McGriff (a little short of the mark, but whatever) do not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because 500 home runs is not impressive anymore.
    However, this is a load of croc. McGriff twice led the league in homeruns and finished with an OPS+ of 134. Thome led the league in homeruns in 2002. His adjusted OPS of 147 is better than Killebrew and Matthews. OPS+ might not be the best metric of evaluating players, but there’s enough there to prove that Thome and McGriff are quite comparable to those guys of the 60’s and 70’s.
    Everyone claims that the generation of their youth is better than that of the current generation. If Frankie Frisch could somehow get Ross Youngs into the Hall of Fame, I still think there’s hope the likes of Thome and McGriff get in as well.

  4. bh0673 - Aug 12, 2009 at 12:58 PM

    Steve I wouldn’t go that far but Damon was hitting the upper deck in the old stadium as well. The field dimensions are the same as the old stadium after 1976 however the right field dimensions are actually farthur then the original stadium from 1923 so to that Damon would have better numbers if he played his entire career in New York and played at the old stadium prior to 1976 when the right field porch was about 15 feet closer. Without question Ruth, Mantle, Maris, DiMAggio, Williams and I am sure many more would have higher home run totals in todays parks under todays rules.

  5. smsetnor - Aug 12, 2009 at 1:03 PM

    OK. I enjoy me some Sabr stats as much as the next baseball guy. But sitting here reading Mike’s post, I realize why so many disregard Sabr numbers. We just throw out stuff like OPS+ and adjusted OPS like everyone knows what they mean. (Heck, I’m a certified baseball nerd and I needed to look both of them up.) I just feel like it makes Sabr guys come off as pretentious with an air of superiority about them when generally that isn’t the case.
    Numbers like Batting Average and OBP were always easy to understand because of their names. Even OPS is that way. You get it because it’s in the name. But you can’t do that with stuff like OPS+ and adjusted OPS. Really, when we throw out the Sabr statistics like this, we’re not saying anything to the people who need this info the most(Like those who out-right Thome’s HOF chances) because they just don’t understand it and won’t take the time to look this stuff up. I’m not sure how to get around this other than occasionally explaining what these things mean, but I think those of us who want more people to embrace Sabr really need to keep this in mind.
    And Mike, this is nothing against what you posted. All good stuff. This was just a Sabr riff in general.

  6. Michael - Aug 12, 2009 at 2:58 PM

    Weight rooms, personal trainers and nutritionists, more specialized baseball training and better equipment from Little League onward, draft and development emphasis on power, better lighting systems in ballparks, rule interpretations in favor of hitters, the attempted abolition of the brushback pitch, possible juiced balls introduced after the 1994/5 strike…the list of reasons guys hit more homers now is huge.
    The sad thing is that despite this overwhelming list, most people will shrug and blame it on PEDs.

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