The all-time home run record is one that has always been cherished. For years Babe Ruth was thought as the best player in baseball because he led the majors in home runs. Hank Aaron was also thought of as the best player ever, and everyone knew he would be a hall of fame player when he broke the Ruth’s record. Every kid’s dream is to eventually break the home run record and immortalize their name in the history books of the MLB; however, is anyone in the MLB right now on-pace to break that record? Many veterans have been on pace during their careers, but have faltered due to age and/or injuries. There are some young guys who might have what it takes, but is there anybody who is definitely going to break the record? No, and from what I have researched, it looks like it will be a long time until Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs are eclipsed.
Ken Griffey Jr.:
Yes, Griffey Jr. is already retired, but he probably had the biggest shot to break the home run record before Bonds himself. Griffey was arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time, and if injuries had not plagued him in his prime, there would be less of an argument against it. From 1993-2000 he averaged just over 50 home runs a season, which includes an injury plagued 1995 season where he only hit 17. Griffey was cruising to break the home run record, then held by Hank Aaron, and was not looking like he was slowing down. Then the Cincinnati Reds happened.
Griffey experience success in his first year move from the American League to the National League. He hit .272 with 40 home runs and 118 RBI and was voted an All Star. By the end of that season, Griffey was turning 33 and had 438 home runs under his belt. From 2001-2004, Griffey was sidelined with injuries and never played more than 111 games. During that time he hit 63 home runs, an average of 15.75 per season. If he was 100% healthy he could have easily hit twice or even three times that number. Without the injuries he could have played to an older age than 40, and thus could have surpassed Aaron and Bonds to become the home run champion.
This is the name that everyone thought could beat the record. A-Rod has had such a dominating career that he reached 600 career home runs in his age 35 season. Everyone believed that the Yankees third baseman would beat Bonds’ record, and nobody was wrong in believing it. The Yankees believed in A-Rod so much that they signed him to a 10-year contract in 2007 worth $275 million, which could add $30 million in marketing bonuses for HR milestones from 660 HR to 763 HR. Then the steroid scandal happened.
First, he admitted to taking steroids in 2009 during his Ranger tenure. People were peeved by Rodriguez’s steroid use, and he was called A-Roid by many opponent’s fans. The Yankees were fine with it eventually, considering he hit .286 and had 30 HR and 100 RBI in 2009 and helped them win a World Series championship. All seemed well after that year, and Rodriguez produced in 2010 and finished 15th in MVP voting; however, his hip became a problem.
In 2011 Rodriguez felt some issues in his hips early in the season, but did not let it affect his decision to play. Eventually he would be sidelined by the injury, and his production faltered. Through 99 games he hit 16 home runs and 62 RBI in 2011, and the injuries continued to subside his production in 2012, where he hit .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI in 122 games. He then was caught in the Biogenisis scandal of 2013, and was only able to complete 44 games during that season, while hitting .244, with 7 home runs and 19 RBI. He will miss all of 2014 due to his suspension, and might not have a spot on the Yankees roster with the new addition of Chase Headley. Even if he did, the odds of him producing enough to grasp another 100+ home runs seems very far-fetched.
Ever since his debut in 2001, “Prince Albert” has been one of the most known names in the MLB business. During his 11-year tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols consistently put his name on the home run leader list every season with names like Prince Fielder, Barry Bonds, Ryan Howard. During this time he finished top 5 in NL MVP voting every year (except 2007) and won the award three times. More important to this article, he had no less than 34 home runs in every season he had with the Red Birds, and hit as many as 49 in 2006. He had 445 home runs in his 11 years with the Cardinals, and looked like he had a shot to reach the all time record. He was going to enter his age 32 season, and would have to average 31.7 home runs a year over his new, ten-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols had eclipsed 40 home runs many times earlier in his career, and it was expected he would do the same in Los Angeles (maybe not all ten years, but at least for the first four or five). At that point he could begin to falter to around 20 home runs a year in the later end of his contract and still hit the record.
Pujols’ power is not what it used to be in St. Louis, however, and in his first year with the Angels, he hit 30 home runs and hit .285. Not ideal in his race to surpass Bonds’ record, but it was still a good and manageable feat; however, a foot injury would be his undoing in 2013. That year Pujols only played 99 games, and hit an average 17 home runs. He has picked up a bit of power this year, hitting 20 home runs in 102 games, but it just will not be enough. Let’s say that he finishes with 31 home runs, which is what ESPN projects he will finish the season with. He will only have 523 home runs in his career, and would need to average 34.2 home runs a season for the rest of his contract to break Bonds’ record. This seems like a hopeless feat, as he would have to be hitting 30+ home runs when he is 41 years old. To put that into perspective, Ted Williams holds the record for most home runs by a 41-year-old with 29 home runs.There is no doubt that Pujols is a first-ballot hall of famer, but we will have to wait for somebody else to break the all-time record in home runs.
As crazy as it may sound, Ryan Howard was at one point expected to break the home run record. He set a massive pace in his early seasons, hitting 22 home runs in 88 games to win Rookie of the Year, and then following it up with an incredible 58 home runs in his sophomore season in 2006 to win the MVP. He did not slow down after that, mashing 47, 48, and 45 home runs in the next three years. He was the fastest to reach 200 home runs in MLB history (658 games vs Ralph Kiner’s 706 games) and was second fastest to 300 home runs (1093 games vs Ralph Kiner’s 1087) Of course injury and age have been major hurdles in Howard’s career, and have stopped him from not only beating Barry Bonds’ home run record, but Mike Schmidt’s all-time Phillies home run record of 562.
When Howard emerged on the scene, he was already 25 years old. Barry Bonds was 22, Pujols was 21, and Alex Rodriguez was 18 years old. That is a whole 3-7 years of home runs that Howard was lacking to be on a good pace, and he would have to put up monster numbers to get close, which he was. The injuries that have plagued Howard have caused his career to go downhill ever since. In 2010 he had recurring ankle injuries which led to him playing only 143 games and hitting 31 home runs. The next year Howard continued to struggle with injuries, and eventually tore his achilles heel in the final out of Game 5 in the NLDS. There are questions whether Howard will break 30 home runs in a season ever again, so fans have now moved from will he break Bonds record to, will he even pass Schmidt to become the Phillies home run king?
Even though these sluggers put up a good effort, we can see that it is quite difficult to break this record. It takes time, consistency, and staying healthy. These players had it all, but they slipped up with injuries or age. The jury remains out if we will ever see anyone that will break this record, no matter who believe is the true Home Run King is.