80 years ago today, on August 11, 1929, Babe Ruth stepped in against Willis Hudlin and hit his 30th home run of the season, on his way to 46 that season. That home run also marked the 500th of Ruth’s career, the first time (by a wide margin) that anyone in Major League history reached that feat.
Ruth would remain alone on that list until Jimmie Foxx joined him on September 24, 1940 off George Caster. Mel Ott would become the third member of that club August 1st, 1945, two weeks before the official end of World War II. Nobody else would reach 500 home runs in their career, likely at least in part due to the service time during World War II and Korea, until Ted Williams did it in 1960. Williams remains to this day the oldest player to reach 500 home runs, doing so at nearly 42 years of age.
The 1960s saw, in addition to Williams, the entrance of Willie Mays (1965), Mickey Mantle (1967), Eddie Matthews (1967) and Hank Aaron (1968) in perhaps the greatest decade of hitting talent that is still revered today. Williams is commonly regarded as the best pure hitter of all time, Aaron the best non-tainted slugger (yet), Mays perhaps the most valuable hitter (combining his offense with his center field play) and obviously Matthews and Mantle are well regarded as well, though Matthews sometimes seems lost in the shuffle more than he should.
Three more players joined in the first two years of the 1970s: Ernie Banks (1970), Harmon Killebrew (1971) and Frank Robinson a month after Harmon. All told, between September 13th, 1965 (Mays) and September 13th, 1971 (Robinson), seven players hit their 500th career home run. Seven, in six years. Remember that.
Things really slowed down after that with Willie McCovey coming next in 1978, Reggie Jackson in 1984, Mike Schmidt in 1987 and Eddie Murray in 1996. And then came the steroid-era sluggers. Over the just-under-ten-year period from August 5th, 1999 (when Mark McGwire hit number 500) and April 17th, 2009 (when the latest member, Gary Sheffield, joined), ten players (those two included) made it past 500 all time home runs.
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?
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