If Vladimir Guerrero's HOF Credentials Were Fuzzy, 400th HR Clears Them Up

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 10:  Vladimir Guerrero #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim celebrates after hitting his 400th career home run and second of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays in the seventh inning at Angel Stadium on August 10, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The ball was gone as soon as it left his bat.

It crashed high up against the right field foul pole, sealing a victory for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and a Hall of Fame berth for outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

It was home run No. 400 in the slugger's illustrious career, and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

With the score tied 7-7 in the bottom of the seventh, Big Daddy reached out and poked a ball on the outer half of the plate deep into the right field corner. 

It had the distance; the only question was fair or foul.

Guerrero actually entered the game two home runs shy of the historic mark, but got No. 399 out of the way quickly, drilling a pitch half way up the rock pile in his first at-bat.

That's just how he works. He's not the type to let his on-the-field responsibilities drag out.

When he has a job to do, Guerrero gets it done, whether it's reaching a career milestone or simply putting his team on his back and carrying it into the playoffs.

In 2004, he did just that.

In the final two weeks of the season, Guerrero could have played by himself and still brought the Angels their first divisional crown since 1986.

For his efforts, he was rewarded with A.L. MVP honors in his first year in the league.

Again, that's just how he works.

With a swing you wouldn't dare teach any young hitter, and a strike zone you could hardly label as such, Guerrero has somehow put together an incredible offensive career.

The eight-time All-Star owns a lifetime batting average of .322, has 400 home runs, and will collect his 1300th RBI and 2200th hit before the season is out.

Last year, he became just the second player in baseball history to hit over .300 with at least 25 home runs in 11 straight seasons. 

The first was Lou Gehrig.

Not bad company to be in, especially when you consider not just Guerrero's wild approach at the plate, but his style of swing as well.

Angels broadcaster Rex Hudler has a saying to describe Big Daddy's strike zone: “From his nose to his toes, that's how Vlad goes.”

Nothing could be truer.

In 14 years in the big leagues, Guerrero has yet to see a pitch he doesn't like.

He swings at everything—inside, outside, up in his eyes, down by his shoe laces. And, almost impossibly, he can hit all of them.

He's belted pitches over the Angels bullpen that began near his ankles, and driven balls at least shoulder high over the short wall in right. 

Not to mention, he averages just 76 strikeouts per season and has never had more than 95 in one year.

If anybody else swung at the pitches Guerrero does, he'd be sent back to the minors, and rightly so.

But when Guerrero swings at those same pitches, you just shake your head and think, “Well, he's hit it before...”

He is by far the greatest bad-ball hitter of his generation, and perhaps of all time. 

No one else could survive in the big leagues with his approach, and yet he has only hit below .300 once in his career—his Major League debut in 1996, when he batted .185 across nine games.

One game in particular can sum up Big Daddy's entire career.

During his MVP campaign in '04, Guerrero drove in a then-franchise record nine runs in one game against the Boston Red Sox.

When asked after the game why he didn't try to pitch around Guerrero, Boston starter Pedro Martinez said, “I did.” 

Martinez, one of the game's best pitchers in the last 20 years, tried to throw nothing but balls to Guerrero, and still surrendered a career day to the man.

If that's not dominance, I don't know what is.

Guerrero is not the prototypical home run hitter, either, with a high upper-cut swing that produces a lot of fly balls. Quite the opposite, he is a line-drive machine who generally hits the ball low and very, very hard.

But it is that same strength that has generated so many laser shots into the seats whenever he gets just little underneath a pitch.

Such was the case on Monday night, when Guerrero crushed his 400th home run on a pitch that most guys would pop up. 

Few batters have ever been as skilled as Guerrero. His ability to hit for power and average, all with an approach as unorthodox as any in baseball, has struck fear into the hearts of pitchers for 14 years.

Even now, in the twilight of his career, Guerrero is as predictably wild as ever. And, at least on this night, his wild ways have served him well once again.

If there was ever a doubt Big Daddy should be enshrined in Cooperstown, those worries are over. The only thing left to decide is which hat he'll wear when he is inducted. 

Personally, I'd suggest a halo.