At the end of 2016 there were a total of 27 MLB players who have hit 500 regular-season home runs during their careers with Babe Ruth being the first member of the club in 1929 and Albert Pujols being the latest in 2014. This elite club contains some of the greatest players the sport has ever seen and 17 of the 27 are in the Hall of Fame. However, it’s also a controversial list since several of the players have tainted their accomplishments by “cheating” with performance-enhancing drugs.
The players who admitted to using banned substances or who were caught using them will likely be shunned by Hall of Fame voters for the rest of their eligible induction years and a couple have already failed to earn enough votes to make it. The so-called steroids era of baseball began in the 1980s and continues today. MLB has tried to combat it with drug testing, but while steroids were banned by the league in 1991, regular testing wasn’t introduced until 2003.
Previous home run records started to fall and it was all linked to PED use. The U. S. government got involved by holding congressional hearings and MLB launched the Mitchell Report to investigate drug use. The league then toughened its stance and policy on banned substances after more than 100 players were linked to PED use. This list below consists of 15 members of the 500-homerun club, it contains eight players who are believed to have earned it legitimately and seven who cheated their way onto it.
15 Earned: Henry Aaron
‘Hammerin’ Hank Aaron held the all-time home run record at 755 until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007. Aaron spent his career chasing Babe Ruth’s previous record of 714 and eventually broke it 1974. Aaron had to put up with ridiculous death threats in 1973 due to racial tensions in the U.S. when it became obvious he’d soon beat Ruth’s mark. Aaron retired at the age of 42 on 1976 and was the last player in MLB who had previously played in the Negro Baseball League. Of course, Aaron played in the era before PED testing. However, former MLB pitcher Tom House hinted that drug use was common in the 1960s and 70s too and was quoted as saying, “We were doing steroids they wouldn’t give to horses. That was the ’60s, when nobody knew.”
14 Cheated: Barry Bonds
The record books say Barry Bonds was the greatest home run hitter of all time with career 762 round-trippers and a record 73 in one season. But the seven-time NL MVP should also be one of the biggest question marks with an asterisk next to his name. Bonds has long been linked to PED use and nobody will really know how good of a hitter he actually was. There’s a good chance he may have hit at least 500 homers without any juice, but his alleged PED activities will always leave a doubt in fans’ minds and will probably keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Bonds was no doubt a fine player and the only Major Leaguer to hit 500 homers and steal 500 bases. He fell just shy of 3,000 hits, 2000 RBI, and a .300 career batting average.
13 Earned: Babe Ruth
Check out the footage of Babe Ruth trotting around the bases on his skinny “stick” legs and look at his upper body. Ruth didn’t look like a guy who was in great shape and had nowhere near the body of a muscle-bound steroid user. The Bambino looked more like a guy who was permanently hungover from the night before. Still, he clobbered 714 homers between 1914 and 1935 and held the record until Henry Aaron broke it in 1974. The Sultan of Swat was the first player to hit 500 homers, which he did in 1929. The Hall of Famer is an American icon and legend who set numerous records during his career and was also a pretty good pitcher. Ruth was just as good at drinking and womanizing and passed away from cancer at just 53.
12 Cheated: Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod will go down in history for being nailed with one of the longest suspensions ever when he was banned for the entire 2014 season. Alex Rodriguez’ name has been dragged through the mud, and deservedly so, for his involvement with PED use and the BALCO scandal. His chances of getting into the Hall of Fame are now slim and none. Rodriguez was one of a few who admitted to using steroids after testing positive. His offensive numbers rose while juiced and he ended his career with 696 dingers, fourth on the all-time list. Rodriguez is another guy who excelled in all areas of the game such as batting average, RBIs, hits and stolen bases, and also holds the record for grand slams with 25. In 2007 he also became youngest player to hit 500 and 600 homers.
11 Earned Willie Mays
Willie Mays is another American legend who played in the era before drug testing. The Say Hey Kid is Barry Bonds’ godfather, but can’t be assumed guilty of PED use due to association. Mays played from 1951 to 1973 and drilled 660 homers to rank fifth all-time. The 12-time Gold Glove winner was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1979. Mays played in record 24 All Star Games and won a pair of NL MVP titles. The speedy centre fielder could arguably be the best all-round player ever. Just check out his stats and accomplishments. When asked about PED use, Mays said in his biography, “I keep telling people, I don’t even know what that stuff is. I played 22 years and I never tried to analyze things I don’t know about. I’m not a doctor.”
10 Cheated Sammy Sosa
We now come to Sammy Sosa who was more or less caught with his finger in the steroid pie, but has vehemently denied using any performance-enhancing drugs. Sosa ranks eighth on the home run list with 609 between 1989 and 2007. It doesn’t look like anybody believes him though as he became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013 and received has received less than 13 per cent of eligible votes each year since then and the number has fallen each year. Sosa will always be remembered for trying to break Roger Maris’ record of 61 homers in a season in 1998 when he and Mark McGwire went toe to toe. Sosa finished with 66 and the NL MVP award and McGwire had 70. To make matters worse, Sosa has also been accused of corking his bat.
9 Earned: Ken Griffey Jr.
Number nine on the current home-run list belongs to Ken Griffey Jr. at 630. Griffey starred from 1989 to 2010 and played in the drug-testing era. The centre fielder, known as Junior or The Kid, won 10 Gold Gloves and co-owns the MLB record for homeruns in eight straight games. Griffey Jr. was never really associated with any PED use and received a record 99.32 per cent eligible votes for the Hall of Fame in 2016. Perhaps Griffey shied away from any type of drug after he attempted suicide when he was 18 years old in 1988 by reportedly swallowing 277 aspirins and ended up in intensive care. Griffey said he wanted to end his life after getting into an argument with his father Ken Griffey Sr., who played from 1973 to 1991 in the Majors.
8 Cheated: Mark McGwire
To many, Mark McGwire seemed to be the perfect home run hitter due to the sheer size of the man and that’s why he was able to knock the ball out of the park 583 times between 1986 and 2001. Forty-nine of these homers came in his first season, setting a MLB record for rookies. At 6-feet-5-inches tall, McGwire just seemed to be a natural slugger and many fans likened him to a big, dumb lug, much like Jethro Bodine of the Beverly Hillbillies. But it turned out that McGwire’s home run prowess came about due to the fact that he was using steroids and he eventually admitted it in 2010. The drug use and admission cost him dearly and McGwire in another 500-home run player who has lost out on the Hall of Fame.
7 Earned: Jim Thome
Another slugger who played in the PED era was Jim Thome. He’s probably one of the least glamorous names on this list, but the personable guy managed to crank out 612 homers between 1991 and 2012, ranking him seventh on the all-time list. That’s not bad at all for a player that many fans may not recall. Most people believe Thome was steroid-free while playing, probably because he didn’t have the physique of a bodybuilder. He was a great power hitter though and banged over 40 homers in a season six times in his career, leading the NL in 2003 with 47. His on-base plus slugging was also something to behold at .956, but some baseball insides believe it might hard for him to get voted into the Hall of Fame despite his numbers.
6 Cheated: Gary Sheffield
Gary Sheffield ranks near the bottom of the 500-club list as he’s 26th with 509 homers between 1988 and 2009. Sheffield, who is Dwight Gooden’s nephew had a fine career at the plate and on the base paths over 200 bases. However, his achievements will be forever tainted as he was linked to the infamous and career-damaging BALCO scandal, being implicated as an accomplice of Barry Bonds. Sheffield has claimed that he was once given a medical cream in 2001 for his injured knee and unbeknownst to him it contained some type of banned substance in it. Believe him if you like, but the controversial Sheffield was also named in the Mitchell Report as for being a player who acquired and used banned substances and his shot at the Hall of Fame are fading.
5 Earned: Albert Pujols
Thirty-six-year-old Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels is the only current player on the 500-homer list since. He’s still going strong and slammed 31 of his 591 career homers last season. He’ll go down as one of the game’s greatest hitters and still has a shot to add to numbers. He’s ranked number nine on the all-time list and could reach Barry Bonds’ record of 762 if he remains healthy for another five or six seasons. The only thing that could derail Pujols’ career and keep him out of the Hall of Fame would be failing a drug test. But so far so good on that front even though he’s been accused of juicing and took former teammate Jack Clark to court over his allegations. Clark later retracted his claims and Pujols dropped the lawsuit.
4 Cheated: Rafael Palmeiro
Rafael Palmeiro currently joins Pete Rose as the only two players with 3,000 hits not to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro’s chances basically flew out the window when he was linked to steroid use even though he belted 569 homers between 1986 and 2005. He’s currently number 13 on the all-time list. Palmeiro admitted to taking PEDs during his career after Jose Canseco blew the whistle in his book and claimed to have shot Palmeiro up with a banned substance. Palmeiro has always denied it even during a congressional hearing, but after failing a drug test said he didn’t “knowingly” inject any banned substances. He was then nailed with a 10-day suspension in 2005. By the way, Palmeiro’s one of just five players to reach 500 homers and 3,000 hits.
3 Earned: Frank Robinson
Back in 2005 Frank Robinson was pretty vocal about steroid users in baseball. He claimed they shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame and their records should be struck from the books. He also said the MLB was too soft on those who failed drug tests. Those statements lead most fans to believe Robinson was clean when he smoked 586 homers out of the yard from 1956 to 1976, ranking him 10th on the all-time list. Robinson was the only player to have been named MVP in both the AL and NL. The former triple crown winner has a pair of World Series rings and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982. He also became the first African-American manager in MLB history when he took over the Cleveland Indians as player/manager in 1975.
2 Cheated: Manny Ramirez
All you really need to know about Manny Ramirez is that he was handed 150-games worth of suspensions for testing positive for a banned substance. Perhaps that explains how he managed to reach number 15 on the all-time home run list with 555 of them from 1993 to 2011. He’s number one on the list when it comes to postseason dingers with 29 though and also cranked 21 career grand slams to rank third. Ramirez had some illegal help though and was first suspended in 2009. He failed a second test two years later and was hit with a 100-game ban, but promptly retired. Ramirez missed baseball though and wanted to return a few months later. For some reason MLB reduced his suspension to 50 games, but the lifetime .312 hitter never played another game.
1 Earned: Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas was a big player at six-foot-five and 240 lbs. This allowed the Big Hurt to crush 521 homers and a career .301 batting average. He holds numerous records from a career that spanned from 1990 to 2008, but wasn’t thought to have achieved them by using PEDs. In fact, Thomas was the first major star to speak out against steroid use and supported drug testing as far back as 1995. He also volunteered to cooperate with the Mitchell Report in 2007 while still an active player. Thomas’s number was retired by the Chicago White Sox and they also erected a statue of him at their stadium. While most sluggers of his era failed to earn election into the Hall of Fame Thomas was voted in during his first year of eligibility in 2014 reaping the benefit of being a drug-free star.