In addition to being the greatest power-hitters of their generation, the active members of The 500/600 Home Run Clubs are “Go-To-Guys” who can change the outcome of a tight game with one swing of a bat.
Perhaps that’s why two of the greatest home run hitters of all time – Ken Griffey, Jr. and Manny Ramirez - were both acquired by play-off contenders just prior to the July 31st MLB trade deadline.
So as they enter into the “make or break” point of the 2008 season, let’s take a look at how each of the active members of the 500/600 Home Run Clubs are leading their teams in the race to the MLB finish line.
The American League East is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing “three horse races” in baseball. As of the writing of this article (in late July 2008), both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees – led by Alex Rodriguez are within striking distance of the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.
But, as of July 31st, the Bo Sox will have to try to please the Red Sox Nation’s lust for a third World Series in four years without Manny Ramirez. The trade came as part of a blockbuster deal that was as stunning to Red Sox faithful as it was obvious to baseball pundits who watched the mutual dislike between Man-Ram and his ex-team reach a boiling point.
Boston sent Ramirez to the LA Dodgers for two minor leaguers in a startling, three-team trade that sent outfielder Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston. This trade could and should be very good news for Dodgers fans who are hoping their team can put together a winning streak and push by the Arizona Diamondbacks to the top of the American League West.
After struggling for the first half of the season, the resurgent Yankees have gone 8-0 after the All-Star Break to pull within one game of the second place Bo-Sox. Rodriguez has led the Yank’s charge to the top of the AL East with a torrid .476 batting average, 7 RBIs, 3 doubles and 1 home run.
The highlight of A-Rod's season so far has most certainly been hitting his 537th homer on July 12, 2008 to move past fellow Yankees’ great Mickey Mantle into sole possession of 13th place on the career list. He ripped an 0-1 pitch to the left field seats, as the scoreboard showed "536" with him and Mantle next to each other. Afterwards, with the fans still cheering wildly, Rodriguez came out and doffed his cap to Yankee faithful.
Later he got the celebratory ball back and was holding it in post-game when he said: "Every person that I run to in the streets always has a big smile when you mention Mickey Mantle. It's definitely, the whole experience part of my career now where you start talking about some of these names.”
Rodriguez said. “It’s very humbling when people say ‘You passed my hero today. Mantle was a pretty special, man and him being a Yankee is very special."
While he bristles at being called the elder statesman of the American League Central leading Chicago squad, there’s no doubt “The Thomenator” Jim Thome is doing his best to make sure his 2005 World Series Champion White Sox team lives up to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous “I’ll be back” line from the first Terminator movie.
After batting a mere .256 for the season, Thome has stepped things up considerably after the mid-summer classic. With a .350 average in the first eight games of the second half, and a home run and two doubles in recent at-bats, Thome is firing on all cylinders again…just like he did during his Comeback of the Year award-winning season of 2006.
“There's an inner feeling you get when you get in a situation to do well in a game. It's hard to explain,” Thome said. Perhaps that’s why he prefers to let his bat do the talking!
Thome will have some help getting his first-place White Sox team to the promised land for the second time in four years, in the person of fellow 500 Home Run Club member Ken Griffey, Jr., who joined the team through a trade on July 30th.
Despite a less than stellar first half of the 2008 season, when he hit only .244, Junior made worldwide headlines by knocking out Number 600 on June 9, 2008. In addition to his star power and a winning attitude, Chicago is getting one of the league’s hottest hitters who is batting .381 with 2 home runs, two doubles and a triple since the break.
Junior, who admits joining The 600 Home Run Club was one of the only highlights of the first-half of ‘08, recently said “"I just want to be the best player Ken Griffey can be - not what everybody expects me to be. I'm tougher on myself than anybody." Chicago is hoping Griffey can continue his rejuvenated play and resemble the player he was in the 90’s.
See Griffey Attributes 600+ Homers To “Just Having Fun”