There are 25 players in the 500 home-run club. There used to be a lot of talk about it being a watered-down group, but of the 10,000-plus position players to amble through baseball history, only 25 players have hit 500 home runs. Among active players, Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones are tied with 445, Jason Giambi has 425, Andruw Jones has 414, and Albert Pujols has 435.
The first two might get there, but that's up to their bodies, and it's looking increasingly unlikely. Giambi isn't getting there. Jones is 34 by virtue of some strange accounting trick, but he still seems like a long shot. Pujols is only 31, so it will be a major upset if he didn't reach the milestone. There isn't another active player threatening to hit 500 home runs.
Jim Thome just hit his 600th home run. The lack of hype has been a) refreshing and b) somewhat baffling. Are we aware of how ridiculous of a number this is? Only seven other hitters have done it. Of all of the hitters you grew up emulating, of all the baseball cards you had, of all the players whose avatars you controlled with a joystick, only eight of them hit 600 home runs in the major leagues.
There's a bit of science why there isn't as much hype. Most of us not named Antonio or Mordecai have ten fingers, as did our ancestors, so when people started to count, they used their fingers. This is why we count with a base-ten system, and it's why we're as impressed with 100 RBI, 20 wins, and 50 HR as we would be with 101 RBI, 21 Wins, and 51 HR. Nice, even numbers are shiny, especially when they're divisible by ten.
So 600 home runs is nice and round, but maybe it doesn't seem that much more impressive than 500 on the surface. Both are rare. One is a milestone that is half of one thousand, and it's the club that includes Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, and Frank Robinson, so it's probably good enough. Making a huge deal about 600 home runs would almost be like creating a secret wing within the Hall of Fame -- the Super Hall of Super Fame, with Babe Ruth and seven others.
Take the round-number part out of it, then. Jim Thome is eighth on the all-time home run list. It's almost impossible not to be impressed with that. Just go around the career leader boards and pick out the #8 player on the list:
Wins: Greg Maddux (355)
Hits: Carl Yastrzemski (3419)
Stolen bases: Eddie Collins (741)
Runs batted in: Jimmie Foxx (1922)
Runs created: Lou Gehrig (2233)
Batting average: Ted Williams (.344)
Runs scored: Cap Anson (1999)
Every time you pull the #8 all-time anything out of a hat, it's going to be an impressive name, an all-time great. Oh, and the guy in eighth place on the all-time walks list should be up there: Jim Thome (1708). He's kind of good.
It takes a nice round number to notice, and that's expected. But don't sleep on just how special Thome has been. Thousands and thousands and thousands of players have tried to hit home runs in college, high school, or tryout camps, hoping that someone will be impressed enough to pay them to play baseball. Of those, thousands and thousands more actually become professionals, where they try to hit the ball as hard as they can so they can continually advance up a level. Of those, thousands have made it to the major leagues with varying success. Of all those players, only seven players have hit more home runs than Jim Thome.
Jim Thome has never been considered the best player of his generation. He's never been the greatest player in baseball. But he's been exceptionally good and healthy for a long time. I'm not sure exactly why his run to 600 home runs was understated, but that doesn't make it any less impressive.*
*My theory is that Sammy Sosa screwed everything up, but I'm saving that for a book.