In three or four years, assuming normal production and health, Miguel Cabrera will hit a long home run, and the game will stop. If he's in Detroit, there will be a little ceremony. If he's on the road, there will be a polite standing ovation. The home run will be Cabrera's 500th, and for a brief second, the eyes of the baseball world will be on him.
And then everyone will forget about it because, really, who cares about the 500 home run club anymore? Alex Rodriguez is almost up to 700. Albert Pujols is almost to 600. David Ortiz just joined the club. Twenty years ago, there were 15 members of the 500-homer club. It took more than a century to get that many. Since 1996, though, 13 more have reached the milestone. Seven of those players probably won't make the Hall of Fame in the next 20 years, if ever.
The 500 home run club ain't what it used to be. The reverence and awe aren't there anymore. If you want to point fingers, Rafael Palmeiro is probably a good place to start. After Eddie Murray, here's the progression of new members, in order: Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Palmeiro, all within five seasons. That's a pretty good recipe for disillusionment soup, regardless of how you feel about performance-enhancing drugs. It was a wave of 500-homer hitters, each coming quicker than the last. It used to be rare. Then it wasn't. Adjust your level of awe accordingly.
Here's a trivia question for you, though: Can you name the only hitter under 30 with 200 home runs or more? I'll give you time. It should be easy. Under 30, over 200 homers. Tick tock.
Jay Bruce. The answer is Jay Bruce.
Now, there are going to be under-30 hitters who join Bruce soon. Giancarlo Stanton might do it before the All-Star break. Mike Trout might do it before he's 26. But the point stands: If you're looking for young hitters who are racking up huge home run totals, you have to look really young. Also, the totals will be impressive in the context of them being young, but they won't be impressive in the context of raw home run totals. Not yet. There isn't an under-30 hitter with nearly as many homers as Tom Brunansky had when he turned 30.
Let's take everyone over 200 homers, then, and give them 30 homers a year. How long would it take for them to get to 500 homers? Here's a sortable table! I hope.
If you want to give them more than 30 homers a year on average, that's fine. But note that Hank Aaron averaged 37 per year, and he was one of the greatest home run hitters in history. Don't get too optimistic, especially since all of them but Bruce are on the other side of 30.
If you assume 30 homers for Stanton every year, he reaches 500 homers right around his age-36 season in 2026. Certainly reachable. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's inevitable. If you use Bill James' favorite toy -- a projection system that spits out a likelihood of reaching any particular milestone -- Stanton had just a 26 percent chance of reaching 500 homers before this season started. Even Mike Trout, owner of one of the most ridiculous starts to a career in baseball history, had just a 47 percent chance at 500 homers before this season. The fact that James named it his "favorite toy" is a hint that you shouldn't take these numbers as if they were emailed to you from the great computer in the sky, but they do a better job than whatever we could in our heads.
It's certainly possible that in 10 years, we'll all be agog at the Stanton/Trout run to 500 homers. It's possible that Bryce Harper and Carlos Correa will be right behind. And it's almost certain that if that happens, I'll forget that I wrote this, and I'll write a hot take about how 500 homers used to mean something, dang it.
But it's also certainly possible that one guy will go the way of Andruw Jones, and another will go the way of Bob Horner. Maybe two will go the way of Carl Yastrzemski or Stan Musial -- inner-circle Hall of Famers who didn't quite get to 500. Maybe all of them will go the way of Barry Bonds and just keep getting better in their 30s, except they'll all do it without the aid of PEDs. If we're looking at likelihoods, though, a reasonably conservative projection system would have just a couple emerging from a field that includes all the names up there and the set of all potential hitters, including the kids still in high school and college right now.
And it's possible, if a little unlikely, that of the field of hitters over the next 15 or 20 years, no one will quite get to 500.
Either way, the flood of 500-homer entrants from the turn of the century has already slowed to a trickle. After Cabrera -- still not a given, mind you -- the trickle will be a quiet hibernation. We've taken the 500 home run club a little bit for granted, and now that we're on the other end of the Mitchell Report Era, it's possible that the pendulum is going to swing the other way.
There's a chance that every one of your favorite young sluggers is going to hit 500 home runs. There's a much better chance that in a decade or two, the 500 home run club is going to be special again. (Even though it's been special this whole time, you weirdos.)