The conventional wisdom these days is that the 500 home-run club is not what it used to be. Some have even suggested — not unreasonably, I’ll grant — that merely hitting 500 home runs is not the automatic ticket to Cooperstown it once was. I mean, after all, 10 dudes have entered the 500-club in roughly the last decade.
But as Matt Carruth notes over at FanGraphs notes, this isn’t the first time a large number of guys entered that club in a short period of time. To wit, between September 13th, 1965 and September 13th, 1971 seven players hit number 500: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, and Frank Robinson. As Matt notes:
This era is largely being remembered for it lessening the importance of the 500 home run club. That is understandable in the sense that we now view most everything from the 1990s and 2000s with an air of suspicion and that the list of members did grow from 15 to its present 25 in just ten years. However, looking back to the 1965-71 period, does ten new members in ten years look much different than seven in six years?
Sure, there are differences. The guys who joined the 500 club between 1965 and 1971 were facing much, much more difficult conditions in which to hit than were the guys from the 1990s. The parks were bigger, the mounds were higher, and the strikezone was much larger in the 1960s than it was today. And that’s before you even get into the PED issue.
But Matt’s observation does suggest, however, that in assessing the value of 500 home runs today, we have to do a little more work than to merely note, as some do, that the milestone is not all that special anymore, because there was a previous time when it wasn’t all that special too, relatively speaking. The why’s of it all matter.