It could happen any day now. Rafael Palmeiro entered the weekend with 498 career home runs and could join the elite 500-homer club with a couple of big swings in Cleveland today.
Palmeiro hasn't wasted any time getting to the threshold of an achievement that will make him a strong candidate for induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. He started the season with 490 and hit seven homers in April to pass Lou Gehrig (493) on the all-time list. He added his eighth of the year Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays at SkyDome.
"I guess you could say I'm getting kind of excited," Palmeiro said. "I think about it, but I eventually want to get it over with. It's not a topic I want to talk about every day. I want to get there so I can talk about other things."
Give Palmeiro credit for honesty. Too many players insist they don't think about statistics or milestones, when everyone knows that they do.
Palmeiro said he first started thinking he might hit 500 homers while he was in the last of five productive seasons with the Orioles.
"I had put together five or six good years that were solid," he said. "I felt that if I could keep up this production like I had been doing and do it over eight to 10 years, I might be getting somewhere."
Judging by his performance this season, the 38-year-old first baseman might be able to think about joining the 600 club.
He has averaged nearly 42 home runs a season over the past eight years and seems destined to maintain that pace this year. If so, he would need to average 34 in 2004 and 2005 to become the fifth player in major league history to hit 600 homers.
Palmeiro figures to stay around long enough to give it a shot, but that may mean finishing his career somewhere other than Texas. His contract expires at the end of this season and the Rangers are looking for someplace to park Severna Park's Mark Teixeira in the defensive alignment.
The Rangers might have to choose between Palmeiro and fellow potential free agent Juan Gonzalez to be designated hitter in 2004. If they go for Gonzalez -- who is 5 years younger -- Palmeiro would have to find a new home to continue his historic quest.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez was so impressed with his team in spring training he boldly predicted that it would be a heavy favorite to win the National League West.
Now, even with the San Francisco Giants off to a great start, he refuses to temper his public optimism.
"It's the same," Perez said. "I believe this is a good team. I believe we have great starting pitching. I think we're going to win and go to the World Series."
He may be onto something. The Dodgers have Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort back from serious injuries and have outstanding starting depth with Perez, Hideo Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii filling out the rotation. They entered the weekend leading the majors in quality starts and have stayed close enough to the Giants to avoid early-season panic.
"Even if they are six or seven games ahead [and] in first place, it's a long season," Perez said. "Our guys didn't hit well the first month and we finished .500. We have the best bullpen in the league. And our starting guys, no team has five guys like us."
The Moose is loose
Former Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina is off to the best start by a New York Yankees pitcher in 45 years. No Yankee has started at least 6-0 since Bob Turley got off to a 7-0 start in 1958.
Turley went on to win 21 games and edge Warren Spahn for the Cy Young Award that year. The Yankees went on to win the World Series.
Mussina still is waiting to win 20 games for the first time and has not won a Cy Young or played on a World Series championship team.
Clemens is `done'
Yankees starter Roger Clemens says nothing is going to change his mind about retiring at the end of this season, though he still has to convince some skeptics.
Yankees great Reggie Jackson, who had to be dragged off the field kicking and screaming at the end of his career, confronted Clemens in Anaheim last week and pressed him for possible scenarios that would cause him to change his mind.
"Let's say you go 22-7, a 2.94 [ERA], you win four games in the postseason and you guys win it all," Reggie said. "What are you doing to do?"
Clemens didn't balk.
"Reggie," he replied, "one year from today, if you and me are here [in California] together, it'll be on Pebble Beach. I'm done."
Vaughn done, too?
New York Mets first baseman Mo Vaughn worked hard during the offseason to lose weight and return to being the imposing offensive force that used to drive the Boston Red Sox.
He got results in the winter -- reducing his body fat to a respectable 13 percent -- but hasn't gotten results at the plate. His .197 batting average going into this weekend has him wondering if he'll be back next year.