Jim Thome may have gone 21 years without a ring, but last night, he became just the eighth player in baseball history to hit 600 home runs.
In an era clouded by steroid use and performance enhancing substances, Thome was one of the select few who made it through unscathed from any accusations, positive tests or court trials. If there was ever any doubt that Thome is a Hall of Famer, just look at the company he has joined by entering the 600 club: Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
It's unlikely that, in this new-found era of meticulous drug testing, there will be any additional outbursts of 600-home run sluggers in the next decade similar to what we've seen in recent years. It's simply too hard of a task to accomplish. It requires consistency, health, luck and flat-out skill, all of which are rare to find collectively in a baseball player.
In no particular order, here are the 10 players who have the best chance of joining Thome in hitting 600 career home runs.
Home Runs Needed: 381
Prince Fielder, at the age of 27, has already hit 219 home runs in his first six-plus seasons in the bigs.
Entering the 2012 free-agency period as one of the most coveted power hitters in the game, Fielder is just beginning to enter his prime. In just his third season with the Brewers, the hard hitting lefty hit a league leading 50 home runs. He is well on his way of breaking 30 home runs in 2011, and he remains just as durable as ever, playing in more games than any other player in the league.
The verdict is still out on Fielder's position in history. But, with an average of 37 homers per season, this early in his career, he's definitely in the hunt.
Home Runs Needed: 293
Mark Teixeira is just over halfway to joining the 600 club. In his nine seasons in the majors, the New York Yankee switch-hitter has amassed a total of 307 home runs, averaging 37 per season. With 32 home runs in 2011, he has already hit more this year than in his 2010 campaign. He has shown no signs of slowing down, thus far. But at the age of 31, how much longer will Teixeira be able to be a sustained force as a power hitter in the American League?
Teixeira has a very real shot of reaching 500 career homers. To hit 600, he'll need to continue his torrid pace well into his 30's.
Home Runs Needed: 302
Adrian Beltre has remained one of the best power hitting third basemen in the game for nearly a decade. Since his 1998 rookie season, Beltre has totaled 298 home runs, averaging a solid 25 per season.
He is still just 32-years-old, and continues playing at a very high rate. But at this point, he's barely half way there. He's well past his career best 48 home run season back in 2004, and has hovered between 20-30 for the past several years.
Beltre needs a few monster seasons at the plate to make a run at 600, and at this point, he seems like the one of the least likely candidates on the list.
Home Runs Needed: 321
Ryan Howard reached his 250th home run in just 855 games, faster than any player in history. He is one of just four players (one of whom is Babe Ruth) to hit at least 40 home runs and have 130-plus RBIs in four consecutive seasons. He has averaged an incredible 46 home runs in his eight seasons in the majors, and has led the league in home runs twice. He has won a Rookie of the Year Award and is the 2006 NL MVP.
Disregarding age, Howard should be on pace for the most home runs in history. But, while Howard was tearing apart minor league pitching in his early 20's, there was another, more famous power-hitting first baseman standing in his way back in Philadelphia, Jim Thome.
Despite his late start, Howard still has a good shot of making his way up the all-time home run list. But with his declining power numbers, he'll need a few more 40-plus home run seasons to make it near the top.
Home Runs Needed: 570
Jason Heyward made quite a statement in his first at bat with the Atlanta Braves, shooting a three-run homer to right against pitcher Carlos Zambrano in the home opener last year.
During his nearly two seasons in the majors, Heyward has hit a total 30 home runs. On the surface, this number is quite small (especially when it's so far short of the other candidates). But at the young age of 22, Heyward is still young enough, and talented enough to become a powerful slugger capable of hitting 600 home runs.
It's way too early to tell whether Heyward has a real shot. In fact, Heyward could end up being a complete bust who struggles to even reach 100 home runs. But he certainly has a better shot than players like Carlos Lee, Andruw Jones, and Aramis Ramirez, who have high home run totals, but are steadily declining heading into the latter-half of their careers. He deserves a spot on this list, but his youth should block any real conversation on whether or not he'll actually reach such heights as Thome.
Home Runs Needed: 163
Of all the players on this list, the one with the most legitimate shot of hitting 600 home runs is Albert Pujols.
With 437 career homers at just 31-years-old, Pujols should even be considered "likely" to reach the feat. He has led the league in home runs the past two years, and continues to do so this year. Heading into what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest contracts of all time this offseason, Pujols is hardly showing any signs of slowing down at all.
The three-time NL MVP probably has about 10 good years left in him. If he can continue his home run barrage for that time, he should surpass Thome easily. The more interesting question is whether or not he'll be able to pass Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds.
Home Runs Needed: 552
Mike Stanton is in the same boat as Jason Heyward. At the age of 21, a career total of 48 home runs is enough to keep him on the list, but his youth is also enough to warrant extreme skepticism of his actual chances.
The young Marlins right fielder is, like Heyward, also in his second season in the majors. With 26 homers, he has already hit four more than in his rookie season. If he can continue improving, and become a successful power hitter in the upcoming seasons, he has a chance to become one of the most dominant players in the game.
He's young enough that he could play nearly 20 more seasons in the majors. There is a possibility of him hitting 600 home runs but it is too early to tell for sure.
Home Runs Needed: 235
The 32-year-old Adam Dunn is having what is, arguably, the worst season of his professional career. He has hit just 11 home runs, with an awful .161 batting average and a league leading 146 strikeouts.
But with 365 career homers, it's hard to ignore his body of work in the major leagues. He has averaged 38 home runs per season, and has ranged from 38-46 homers per season since his 2004 season with Cincinnati.
For Dunn to have a shot at reaching Thome's number, he needs a comeback for the ages next year. Maybe a fresh start in 2012, and an improved offseason routine will do some good for Dunn. If not, he'll be lucky to even reach 500.
Home Runs Needed: 154
Although Vlad Guerrero is having just an alright year at the plate in terms of home runs, he is just one year removed from hitting an impressive 29 homers, very close to his 34 per season average.
He is getting older though. At 36-years-old, Guerrero is no longer the threat he used to be in his days with Montreal and Anaheim. He still remains a powerful presence in the lineup and can definitely still knock one out of the park.
Right now, he's at 446 career homers. He's going to have to play well into his early 40's to even come close to joining the 600 club. Thus, his chances are fading fast. Maybe he'll be able to reach 500, but 600 is probably a bit too much to expect from the aging veteran.
Home Runs Needed: 330
Miguel Cabrera is still young enough, and powerful enough to make him a candidate for reaching 600 home runs.
However, he is still 30 homers short of even reaching 300 home runs, making it quite a difficult task for Cabrera to reach Thome-territory. In order to get there, Cabrera will need to average 33 home runs for the next 10 seasons of his career. It may seem realistic for him to reach that number now, next year, and the year after that, but when he's 38, it might be a different story.
But there is one very encouraging fact for Cabrera. From the age of 28, Jim Thome has hit 196 home runs and so far Cabrera has hit 270 at the same age.