|Friday, March 1
Updated: March 6, 4:11 PM ET
Breaking down the odds
By David Schoenfield
Hank Aaron hit his last home run in 1976, while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers. Barry Bonds was chasing his father around big-league ballparks, Alex Rodriguez was still in diapers and Adam Dunn wasn't yet born. Here are the pros and cons for some of the active players with a chance of reaching Aaron's career mark of 755 home runs.
The case for: Needs to average 47 homers over the next four seasons or 38 home runs over the next five seasons to break the record, a pace that seems reasonable after his 73-homer explosion last season. He's in great shape, will be motivated to break the record, has continued to adjust his swing as he's gotten older (for example, his groundball/flyball ratio has decreased throughout his career, from 1.13 in 1987 to 0.56 last year) and is coming off the greatest offensive season ever.
The case against: Was healthy last year, but he missed 19 games in 2000 and 60 in 1999. One 30-homer season marred by injury and his projected chance drops dramatically. After all, a couple years ago we were talking about Mark McGwire's inevitable chase and he didn't even get to 600. Pac Bell Park, despite popular theory, is not a good home-run park -- in fact, Bonds hit 37 of the 60 home runs from left-handed hitters last year at Pac Bell.
Ken Griffey Jr.
The case for: Still five years younger than Bonds and just 107 home runs behind him. Sure, he had the hamstring injury last year, but he's been durable throughout his career (six years of 150+ games and only one other serious injury). Cincinnati's new park, set to open in 2003, looks like it's tailor-made for Junior: just 325 down the right-field line and 370 to the right-center power alley. And let's face it, he's due for a monster season in 2002 that will push him past 500 career bombs.
The case against: Let's face it, he's not the hitter he was a few years ago. From his MVP season in 1997, his slugging percentage has dropped from .646 to .611 to .576 to .556 to .533. He hasn't hit .300 since '97. At that time, Stats, Inc. projected Griffey with a 27 percent chance of hitting 756 and a 3 percent chance of hitting 800. He's clearly on the decline and hasn't upped his power stroke to keep pace with Bonds and Sosa.
The case for: Unlike Griffey, Sosa's 756 potential keeps on growing. Four years, it was zero. Now, it's nearly fifty-fifty. He's hit 243 home runs the past four years, and average of nearly 61 per year. If he averages that over the next four years he'll be at 693 at age 38. He's also durable (only 12 games missed the past five seasons) and showing more selectivity at the plate as he gets older (career-high 116 walks last year).
The case against: Who knows, he's probably 36 instead of 33. He's a Cub, so that's gotta be a strike against him. The winds could blow directly in at Wrigley over the next three years. Don Baylor may tell Sammy to become a better all-around ballplayer, having him hit-and-run and bunt more often.
The case for: Fell off Stats' chart mainly due to poor 2000 season with Tigers; still listed as having a 7 percent chance of hitting 700. Returns to the Rangers, where he averaged 43 homers per year from 1996-99. If he averages that many over the next five years, he'll be at 613, which would give him more than Bonds at the same age Bonds is now.
The case against: Hasn't hit 40 in a season since 1998, and if you're not hitting 45 a year at this point, your chances of catching Aaron are slim to none. The Ballpark was never a particularly friendly home-run park for Gonzalez, as he homered more often on the road each year in that '96-99 stretch (97 on the road, 76 at home). Remember, Aaron's late-career surge was helped by an immense home-field advantage in Atlanta.
The case for: Just entering the peak years of his career and already has 241 lifetime round-trippers. Reached 50 for the first time in 2001 and The Ballpark will help much more than Safeco did. His slugging percentage has gone up four straight years and, as good as he is, he could explode on the league and hit .340 with 65 home runs for two or three years running. If he averages 45 per year for the next decade, he's at 691 and still just 37.
The case against: Man, if he averages 50 dingers per year over the next decade, he'll still be short of Aaron. Also: A-Rod is not an extreme flyball hitter. His groundball/flyball ratio last year was 1.00, which means he hits as many balls on the ground as in the air. Bonds, as mentioned, hits almost twice as many balls in the air as on the ground. While he played every game last year, he also missed 47 games over the previous two years.
The case for: The most similar batters statistically through the same age (from baseball-reference.com): Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. Yes, he has a chance. His career batting average is .319, so he can flat-out hit and just wait until he gets the heck out of Montreal and to a team that can give him some support in the lineup and he actually learns to play the game. Has missed just 16 games the past four years.
The case against: Fifth most similar batter: Del Ennis. His inclination to swing at just about everything hurts him. Aaron didn't walk much his early years either, but Guerrero drew just 36 unintentional walks last year. Guerrero has thrived in Montreal, with 93 career homers at home, 77 on the road; a move to a different park could hurt him. Guerrero is enormously strong, but also hits a lot of balls on the ground (again, in part due to his tendency to hack at bad pitches), with a career GB/FB ratio of 1.35.
The case for: Coors Field, baby! 59.6 percent of lifetime homers at Coors. Home-run growth since rookie year: 25 to 35 to 42 to 49 to ...
The case against: Two years older than A-Rod and already 85 home runs behind. Late start (turned 25 his rookie year) may be too much to overcome.
The case for: Reeks of power with huge 6-5, 245-pound frame. Hit 41 dingers last year and that was a bad year. His ability to draw walks (219 past two years) is a positive, as he waits for his pitch to knock over the fence. With three full years under his belt, he's just now entering what could be a stretch of 50-homer seasons. Edison Field has been a very good home-run park for right-handed hitters.
The case against: Draws walks, but also strikes out too much (158 times last year). Career average is just .254 and nobody also with 500 career home runs has an average that compares to that, except for McGwire (.263). Too far behind the others; even if he gets to 756, somebody else will do it first.
The case for: In one year, he went from hitting 16 home runs in the Class A Midwest League to hitting 51 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. His 19 bombs in 66 games with the Reds translates to 43 blasts over 150 games ... and that's as a 21-year-old rookie! He's huge (6-6), athletic (played quarterback at University of Texas), hits left-handed (see Griffey comment above) and has plate discipline (100 walks last year). Has four complete seasons to go before even turning 26 and could have 200 career home runs already by that time.
The case against: He's 22. You never know.
David Schoenfield is the baseball editor at ESPN.com. He once hit two home runs in a Little League game in third grade, although he thinks they may have actually been errors by the outfielders.