All eyes will be on Albert Pujols for the next few days until he reports to Spring Training.
If his self-imposed deadline for a new contract comes and goes without an extension being reached with the St. Louis Cardinals, he will rule the headlines for the duration of the season.
Everywhere the Cardinals go, the top questions asked will be, “Where do you see yourself playing next season?” and “is your contract status a distraction?”
Arguably baseball’s best player, Pujols will wind up the top story of the year regardless of what happens on the field with his historic payday fast approaching.
In the meantime, there are three other historic milestones that will be reached at some point during the 2011 season that bear mentioning.
Three players will wind up breaking into some of baseball’s most exclusive clubs this season and so far on the eve of Spring Training, no mention has been given to their impressive feats.
3,000 Hit Club
At just 74 hits shy of achieving his 3,000th career hit, Derek Jeter is assured of reaching this milestone during the 2011 season.
Jeter currently averages 1.27 hits per game over his storied career. The captain of the Yankees will be remembered in history for leading the Yankees to five World Championships and three consecutive World Series Championships in 1998-1999-2000.
Jeter passed Hall of Famer and fellow Yankee Lou Gehrig to become the all-time Yankee hits leader in 2009. He also ranks as the all-time hits leader as a short stop and his career .314 batting average ranks seventh among all active players (76th overall).
Based on his career averages, Jeter should reach the 3,000 hit club around early June.
600 Home Run Club
The second most exclusive club in baseball is set to accept a new member this season when Jim Thome hits his 11th home run of the season.
Thome will be only the eighth player in Major League Baseball history to reach this milestone, behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr (630), Alex Rodriguez (613) and Sammy Sosa (609).
If Thome is able to reach 20 home runs for the season, he will match Sosa for seventh all time. Thome averages a home run approximately every 4.06 games, meaning he should reach the 600 club around mid-May.
400 Stolen Base Club
Ichiro Suzuki is sitting on 383 career stolen bases, leaving him just 17 short of reaching 400 career stolen bases.
While it is a far step away from the career record set by Rickey Henderson (1,406), it is still an impressive accomplishment.
Ichiro has played his entire Major League career in an era that does not value the stolen base compared with other statistics and on-field contributions. Although his career statistics from Japan are not combined with his Major League totals, he also has 220 career stolen bases in Japan’s professional league.
While he currently ranks tied for 80th on the all-time list in MLB steals, his combined total of 603 stolen bases would rank him 18th all time.
Ichiro averages a stolen base approximately every 4.14 games. If he maintains this average, he should reach his 400th stolen base in the middle of June.
Johnny Damon is actually two stolen bases closer than Ichiro to reaching 400 career steals. Entering the season, Damon has 385 career stolen bases.
His speed has decreased the past two seasons, however. After stealing 29 bases in 2008, Damon only managed 12 stolen bases in 2009 and only 11 last season with Detroit.
Damon will come close, but may need to wait until 2012 to celebrate his milestone.
With the three major milestones all presumably reached before the All-Star break, we will have plenty of time to focus our attention back to the Pujols saga.
For three games, however, these future Hall of Fame players deserve baseball’s full attention and ovations.