On Wednesday, the White Sox' Paul Konerko hit his 400th career home run, becoming the 48th player in baseball history to reach that milestone. It came just a little over three years after his 300th home run in April 2009.
Konerko just turned 36, and his current contract runs through 2013. He's off to a good start this year -- hitting .357/.423/.614 with four home runs and 13 RBI through 78 plate appearances, and if he has a year similar to his last two, he'll be sitting somewhere between 425 and 430 career home runs entering next season.
That would put him at 70 to 75 home runs short of 500, for a man who has averaged 33 over the last three seasons. You'd think the White Sox would re-up a 38-year-old franchise icon for at least one more year in 2014, just to try to put some people in the seats to see a possible 500th career home run.
But would that be enough to put Konerko in the Hall of Fame? Without getting into a discussion here about certain individuals who hit home runs in a certain recent era, pretty much every other hitter who has reached 500 home runs and is eligible for Hall induction has, in fact, gotten in.
The issue with Konerko's possible candidacy is that, apart from the home runs, he really hasn't done anything to distinguish his career as one of the best ever. He's led his league in an offensive category exactly once: in grounding into double plays in 2003. That really isn't going to help.
He has 1274 career RBI, which ranks 116th on the all-time list. He's likely to move up about 40 places on that list this season, if he repeats the 100+ RBI year he had the last two seasons; he has six such years overall (and two near-misses, with 99 and 97). He's also posted seven 30+ home-run years, and could be on target for an eighth. Three more years (including 2012) with similar hit totals to the last three would put him around 2,500.
Some will cite Konerko's WAR -- 25.9 -- and say he is in no way qualified for the Hall. That ranks 556th in baseball history, just below Kevin Seitzer, and no one's pushing Seitzer for Hall induction. Obviously, if Konerko has three more good offensive seasons, he could add nine or 10 WAR to that total.
And yet, it's not the Hall of WAR we're discussing here. Konerko's Hall "problem", for lack of a better term, is similar to that of another longtime White Sox player, Harold Baines. Baines piled up 2,866 career hits (41st all-time) and 384 home runs, but also only led his league in an offensive category once (unlike Konerko, at least it was a positive one: a .541 slugging percentage in 1984). Baines had lots of counting stats, but nothing special to distinguish any of them and a career WAR of 37.0, 329th all-time.
Konerko doesn't really fit the classic "Hall of Fame" profile, based on the above. His most-comparable hitters on his baseball-reference page are Tino Martinez, Gil Hodges and Derrek Lee. Fine hitters all, but none of them will ever make the Hall.
And yet, that "500" number could loom in Konerko's future. If he gets there, he'll get plenty of media attention and a look back at his career where people might say, "Hey, that guy was really good for a very long time." His overall numbers might not say so, but if Paul Konerko does make it to 500 career home runs, he'll have a really good shot at Hall induction.