No team has ever had two players hit their 400th home runs in the same season, and the Orioles probably won't be the first. Still, Joe Carter is only 22 homers short of that total, Cal Ripken 29. The Stone Age Orioles might not deliver a pennant, but they'll deliver the milestones.
Ripken hit career homer No. 371 last night, driving a grand slam into the left-field seats to trigger a five-run first inning and a 10-1 Orioles victory. It's highly doubtful he'll finish the season with 30 homers, a total he has reached only once in his career. But sometime next season, he figures to join both the 400-homer and 3,000-hit clubs.
Take away his consecutive-games streak, and those numbers alone would qualify Ripken for the Hall of Fame. He has played most of his career at shortstop, setting both offensive and defensive records at that position. Indeed, he was a revolutionary figure in the sport, paving the way for Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and all the bigger shortstops who followed.
It's major-league history every time Ripken walks onto the field, but the neat thing about this team is that it's full of accomplished veterans. Carter, Roberto Alomar and Mike Mussina figure to be Hall of Fame candidates. Rafael Palmeiro, with 271 career homers, has a chance for 400. Jimmy Key is the subject of a recent airline magazine article by Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam.
Bring your scorecards. Bring your calculators. Scott Erickson earned his 100th career victory last night. Ripken advanced on various all-time lists. Such achievements will be commonplace for a team with the three active career RBI leaders, and 12 players who have combined for 53 All-Star selections. Twelve former All-Stars. That's almost half the roster.
So, two 400-homer men in the same year? Don't count on it -- there has been only one season in major-league history in which more than one player reached 400, much less more than one from the same club. The year was 1963. The sluggers were Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider and Willie Mays, according to home run historian David Vincent.
Chances are, Ripken and Carter both will fall short of 400 this season -- Ripken has hit 17 or fewer homers in four of the past six years, and Carter probably will get 400 at-bats instead of his usual 600. Then again, it's an expansion year, and an offensive age. Lenny Webster hit two homers last night. Who can predict what will happen?
For that matter, who can even measure the value of milestones anymore? Four hundred homers would be just another entry on Ripken's Hall of Fame resume, but the question is whether that plateau will continue as an unofficial Cooperstown standard. Dave Kingman is the only player with 400 homers not in the Hall. Dale Murphy finished with 398 and is not assured of induction.
Carter, 38, ranks second to Mark McGwire (388) among active home-run leaders, followed by Barry Bonds (374) and Ripken.
Carter has hit 20 or more homers in each of the past 12 seasons, driven in 100 or more runs 10 times and hit a homer to win a World Series. But is he a Hall of Famer? Maybe not even if he gets to 400.
At some point, 500 homers might become a more meaningful standard -- McGwire and Bonds should get there if they stay healthy, and so might Ken Griffey (295) and Juan Gonzalez (256).
Carter was posting big numbers for weak Cleveland teams even before the game's recent offensive upturn. Still, his Hall of Fame candidacy is problematic.
Few of Carter's peers can match his home run and RBI totals, but his career batting average entering this season was .259, his career on-base percentage .306. He is not the most patient hitter -- he has never drawn 50 walks in a season. But it is his batting average that will draw the most scrutiny from Hall of Fame voters.
Ralph Kiner holds the lowest batting average by an outfielder in Cooperstown -- and his .279 mark is 20 points higher than Carter's. Thirty-nine of the other 49 outfielders in the Hall have lifetime marks of .300 or better. Carter has never been an MVP, and led his league in RBIs only once. As a Hall of Fame candidate, he could become the Tony Perez of outfielders.
This is not meant to tear down Carter, a five-time All-Star who certainly merits Hall of Fame consideration. If anything, the point is just the opposite -- the Orioles are so loaded, it's easy to take the achievements of certain players for granted. Harold Baines is a part-time DH on this team, a part-time DH with 339 career homers.
The numbers will all become insignificant if the Orioles sputter, but last night served as the perfect antidote to Opening Day, a vivid reminder of this team's vast offensive potential.
Jeffrey Hammonds hit a home run to the opposite field. Alomar had two hits from the right side and hit another ball hard to the outfield. Eric Davis went 2-for-4.
Two 400-homer men? That's asking a bit much. But with this team, every night offers a new chapter in baseball history.
Bring a scorecard. Bring a calculator. Bring your all-time lists. Did we mention that Jesse Orosco is closing in on 1,000 career appearances? The Stone Age Orioles might not deliver a pennant, but they'll deliver the milestones.
Pub Date: 4/02/98