Mike Schmidt, the most prolific home-run hitter in baseball the last 14 years, opens the season five homers short of becoming the 14th member of the 500 club.
Barring a long-lasting injury, Schmidt should become the second player in the last three years and only the third in the last decade to join that select group of power hitters headed by Hank Aaron with 755.
If Schmidt has a typical year, he should move into ninth place on the career list. Opening the season with 495 home runs, Schmidt can pass Mel Ott (511), Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews (512 each), and Ted Williams and Willie McCovey (521 each). McCovey, in 1978, and Reggie Jackson, in 1984, were the last two players to reach 500 home runs.
Every inactive player who collected 500 home runs in his career is in the Hall of Fame, an honor Schmidt will likely receive after he retires.
"Anyone who hits 500 homers or has 3,000 hits has to have looked himself in the mirror a lot of times and made a lot of adjustments," said Schmidt, who batted .196 and struck out 136 times in 132 games in his first full season.
Since becoming the Philadelphia Phillies' regular third baseman in 1973, Schmidt has been a model of consistency. He has led the National League in home runs a record eight times and has hit more than 30 homers 12 times. Only Aaron (15) and Babe Ruth (13) have topped 30 more times than Schmidt. Jimmie Foxx also belted more than 30 home runs 12 times in his career.
Despite fighting off assorted injuries the past few years, Schmidt, 37, showed last season he is still a force in the NL. He led the league with 37 home runs and 119 RBI, batted .290, and won his third Most Valuable Player Award. Schmidt and Roy Campanella are the only three-time winners of the NL MVP award.
Schmidt also is approaching another milestone--2,000 hits. He needs 66 to reach that plateau. So far, more than 25 percent of Schmidt's hits have been home runs.
Unlike the past three seasons, Schmidt is the only player closing in on a lofty milestone. In 1984, Jackson hit his 500th homer; in 1985, Pete Rose became baseball's career hit leader, Nolan Ryan notched his 4,000th strikeout, Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro each recorded his 300th victory, and Rod Carew collected his 3,000th hit. Last season, Don Sutton joined the 300-win club by boosting his total to 310 and Steve Carlton topped 4,000 in strikeouts.
Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken will open the season with a consecutive-game streak of 765-- 10th best of all-time. Ripken has not missed a game since sitting out the second game of a double-header May 29, 1982, and has played in every inning of every game since June 5, 1982.
Ripken has a long way to go before thinking about catching Lou Gehrig, who played 2,130 consecutive games, but he can move into eighth place on the list this year. Nellie Fox is ninth with 798 and Gus Suhr is eighth at 822.
Rose needs 10 runs to move into second place ahead of Aaron and Ruth (2,174) and 81 pass to pass Ty Cobb (2,245) as the leader. Rose, however, will not open the season on Cincinnati's 24-man roster.
Jackson, who returns to the Oakland A's, needs to play 26 games to pass Ott (2,730) for 14th place on the list. If he plays in more than 121 games, Jackson would move into ninth place ahead of Al Kaline. Jackson also needs 41 RBI to reach 1,700.
Steve Garvey needs 17 hits to reach 2,600 and Bill Buckner needs 36 for 2,500.