Who is the Best Player in the 600 Club?
In 2010, after Alex Rodriguez joined one of the most exclusive clubs in major league baseball ESPN conducted a poll asking to rank the best players in 600 Home Run Club. These are the results with 41,405 votes submitted:
(#1 Votes) Points
Now that Jim Thome of the Minnesota Twins has become the eighth player in Major League history to hit 600 home runs I wonder where he would rank if this poll was taken again today. This is the current list of the 600 club: Barry Bonds(762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey, Jr. (630), Alex Rodriguez (626), Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (602).
Rodriguez and Thome are still active, so they will continue to move up the list. I’m not sure how far Thome can climb. He might have a chance of passing Ken Griffey, Jr. Rodriguez; on the other hand, assuming he can stay healthy has a shot at finishing number one.
Before I get to my rankings, I want to point out that when you try to compare ball players from different eras there are so many variables to consider. Things like the dead-ball era, the size of the ballparks, expansion, the height of mound, advances in conditioning and medicine, specialized pitching, etc. I address steroids below.
1) Babe Ruth: it’s hard to argue that Ruth wasn’t the greatest player of all time. He was as dominant as a hitter can be. Just in terms of home runs, Ruth’s 714 came in almost 4000 less at bats than Hank Aaron’s 754.
How many more home runs would he have hit if he hadn’t pitched for the first five years of his career? Ruth’s career pitching record is 94-46 and he won 20+ games twice. Plus, the ballparks were bigger when he played.
Should We Only Consider Statistics
It’s difficult when comparing ball players to be completely objective, especially when such great players are involved. I vowed that I would try and keep emotion out of my decisions. Ranking number one was a “no-brainer”. However, when it came to selecting number two it became a little more difficult. Trying to decide between Willie Mays and Hank Aaron is not an easy task, unless I gave in at let emotion play a part in my decision.
Willie Mays was one of the greatest players MLB history, however, I’ve never cared of as a person. On the other hand, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Hank Aaron. Mays has always been jealous of Aaron and bitter that Aaron hit more home runs. Mays has said things like Aaron hit more home runs because he played in a smaller park.
When I read this excerpt from Howard Bryant’s new book The Last Hero — a Life of Henry Aaron it confirmed that my feelings toward Mays were correct. His is a man without class or Character.
Bryant cites a first-hand account from 1957, a United Press/Movietone News reporter named Reese Schoenfeld, that Mays ragged on Aaron from the sidelines while Henry was being interviewed in front of a TV camera: “How much they paying you, Hank? They ain’t payin’ you at all, Hank? Don’t you know we all get paid for this? You ruin it for the rest of us, Hank! You just fall off the turnip truck?”
While Aaron became more and more agitated, Mays laid it on thick: “You showin’ ‘em how you swing? We get paid three to four hundred dollars for this. You one dumb nigger!”
I don’t know what to say after that, it is self explanatory. Since career stats are as close as they are, then it comes down to the character vote and Hank Aaron is the clear winner.
2) Hank Aaron*
Batting average .305; Hits 3,771; Runs Batted In 2,297 (the most all-time); Home Runs 755 Slugging Percentage .555; Fielding Percentage .980; OPS .929; OPS+ 155
3) Willie Mays*
Batting average .302; Hits 3,283; Runs Batted In 1,903; Home Runs 660 Slugging Percentage .557; Fielding Percentage .981; OPS .941; OPS+ 156
* Aaron and Mays are two of only four players in MLB history to record 200 stolen bases, 3,000 base hits and 300 home runs. The other two are George Brett and Dave Winfield.
4) Barry Bonds – I, like many other baseball fans, am not a big supporter of Barry Bonds. I’m also not going to get into the steroids thing again. I’m pretty sure he took some type of substance(s), but if it was just the steroids, why did no one else hit 73 home runs or have a four year run with an OPS+ of 256? It’s easy to overlook the fact that Bonds was one of the most talented players of all time. I believe most of Bonds’ peers used at some point, including pitchers, it should still say something that Bonds was so uniquely dominant. Name another player that dominated baseball in this way other than Ruth. Regardless of however much Bonds was aided by performance enhancers, his incredible high level of performance still says a great deal about Bonds’ natural ability.
5) Alex Rodriguez- The next two spots are close. I could have done a 5A and 5B,
but I’m going to give Rodriguez a slight edge over Griffey because of a better overall game. Remember Rodriguez was a very good defensive shortstop. Some compared him to Honus Wagner as the best hitter at the shortstop position, and he could run about as well as anyone in the league. Both Rodriguez and Griffey are five tool players. However, in a straight up statistical comparison, Rodriguez has a good lead over in Griffey in both OPS .954 .907 and OPS+, 146 to 135. I can’t help myself, but here is another comparison of natural talent versus steroids. In 1996, as a 20 year old shortstop Alex Rodriguez won the batting title, hit 36 homeruns, and compiled a 160 OPS+. So, if he can hit 36 homeruns at age 20, it shouldn’t be that surprising that by 26, Rodriguez could hit 57, especially given he was playing in a great hitters park in Texas. Then in the post-testing era, Rodriguez still was able to hit 54 homeruns in 2007. The point is that Rodriguez could (and hopefully can still) flat out play because of a natural ability and tremendous eye hand coordination that allows him to hit a baseball.
6) Ken Griffey Jr. – I’ve always been a fan of Ken Griffey Jr. Maybe it’s because I see somewhat of a parallel between of his career and my childhood hero, Mickey Mantle. Both were cheated out of further greatness by injuries. I believe Jr. was by far the best center fielder since Mickey. Unfortunately, starting at age 31, he was plagued by injuries, as was Mantle. From 2001(age 31) through 2006, Griffey missed 418 games. That represents a little over two and half seasons. With 630 home runs at retirement, I would think it would safe to say that he would have had an excellent chance to be the 4th member of the 700 Club. In addition, he was only 219 hits away from 3,000. Griffey Jr. is only one of three players in major league history to hit 200 homers in a four-season span. The other two were; Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire.
7) Jim Thome- Thome became the first player in history to hit numbers 599 and 600 inconsecutive at-bats. Thome became the second fastest to reach 600 home runs doing so in 8,137 at-bats. Babe Ruth needed just 6,921.
It’s interesting that the two fastest have never been linked to steroids. Thome has a better OPS than Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays+, Hank Aaron+, Ken Griffey , Jr. and Sammy Sosa. In addition, his OPS+ is higher than Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Sammy Sosa. In addition, for his career to-date he is in the top 30 in the following categories: At-bats-per-homerun – 13.6 (5th), OPS .961 (17th), Slugging % .558 (20th), Extra Base Hits 1,067 (23rd), Runs Batted In 1,664 (27th) and Intentional Bases on Balls 169 (29th).
8) Sammy Sosa– When I think of Sammy Sosa a member of the 600 Club, it feels more like fantasy baseball than the real thing. Sosa was a good ball player. His career numbers are respectable, but not great. If you look at the chart below you will see that with the exception of stolen bases, Sosa ranks last or next to last in every other category. He did win the 1998 NL MVP and came in second in 2001 behind Barry Bonds and his 73 home runs. After missing the 2006 season, Sosa signed with Texas and at age 38 hit 21 home runs and drove in 92 in 114 games (412 at-bats). Projected over 600 at-bats, he would have somewhere around 30 HRs and 130RBI. Bottom line, this selection was the easiest of them all.
|Player||SB||Slugging %||Fielding %||Hits||RBI||Avg.||OPS||OPS+|
|Mays||338 (2)||.557 (5)||.981 (4)||3283 (2)||1903 (4)||.302 (3)||.941 (5)||156 (3)|
|Rodriguez||305 (3)||.568 (3)||.977 (6)||2762 (6)||1883 (5)||.302 (3)||.954 (4)||145 (6)|
|Griffey||184 (6)||.538 (7)||.985 (2)||2781 (5)||1836 (6)||.284 (6)||.907 (7)||141 (7)|
|Thome||19 (8)||.558 (4)||.988 (1)||2266 (8)||1664 (8)||.277 (7)||.961 (3)||149 (5)|
|Ruth||123 (7)||.690 (1)||.968 (8)||2873 (4)||2213 (2)||.342 (1)||1.16 (1)||206 (1)|
|Aaron||240 (4)||.555 (6)||.980 (5)||3771 (1)||2297 (1)||.305 (2)||.929 (6)||155 (4)|
|Bonds||514 (1)||.607 (2)||.984 (3)||2935 (3)||1996 (3)||.298 (5)||1.05 (2)||181 (2)|
|Sosa||234 (5)||.534 (8)||.973 (7)||2408 (7)||1667 (7)||.273 (8)||.878 (8)||128 (8)|
Prove to me that Steroids Equal Home Runs
Thome is the fifth player to join the club in the last nine years. The steroid conspirers will attribute this to the use of performance enhancing substances. Before I go any further let me state that I am totally against the use of any substance that can have a negative impact on the human body. Not because someone says it makes you hit more home runs, but because youngsters emulate pro athletes and the use of these harmful substances. I’m still waiting for a layman’s explanation of how exactly a person‘s ability to hit home runs is increased with the use of “performance enhancing”
substances. If these substances really do give a person the ability to hit more home runs, why don’t the major league teams draft body builders? Image how many home runs this guy could hit.