Waiting in the on-deck circle behind Ken Griffey Jr. for a crack at 500 home runs is Fred McGriff. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are giving the 40-year-old DH an opportunity to hit the eight more home runs he needs to join the 500 club. Let the countdown—and the debate—begin.
No player ever has tested the merits of 500 home runs more severely than McGriff. The milestone has traditionally served as validation of a player's place in the Hall of Fame. (Actually, every player who has been on the Hall of Fame ballot with more than 442 home runs has been elected, though Jose Canseco and his 462 home runs are likely to raise the bar.) McGriff, however, has had such an understated and itinerant career that his passage to Cooperstown remains in question.
McGriff, for instance, never has hit 40 homers in a season. Eddie Murray is the only 500-homer hitter never to have hit 40, but Murray hit another magic milestone with 3,000 hits. ( McGriff had 2,480 through Sunday.) In McGriff's favor, his batting, on-base and slugging averages (.285, .378, .511) are comparable with those of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey (.270, .374, .515). McGriff has just nine fewer RBIs (1,546-1,555) and has more top 10 MVP finishes (6-4) than McCovey.
Griffey and McGriff could make this the second consecutive year in which two players hit their 500th home runs; Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro did so last year, and never before had two players done it in the same season. After McGriff, however, the doors of the 500 club figure to close until at least 2006. Then Juan Gonzalez (434 at week's end), Frank Thomas (430), Jeff Bagwell (428) and Jim Thome (395) may be knocking.