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Palmeiro joins a hitting Rushmore

Palmeiro to join exclusive club

Who's next?

Who are the leading candidates to scale the twin peaks of 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, and thus join the three faces already chiseled into this Mount Rushmore: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray, with Rafael Palmeiro now making it a foursome?

Is there a next?

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Can anyone truly be projected to turn arguably baseball's toughest offensive feat -- something not generally discussed in those terms simply because it has been too rare to even be a conceivable target?

Hitting and power-hitting have always been the two opposite poles of the batting world, ordinarily mutually exclusive. Either your hits are many, or they are long.

Two extremes represented by Ichiro, who earlier this season delivered his 1,000th hit in record time but only 43 of which have been for four bags, and Big Mac McGwire, who nailed 583 homers in a record-few at-bats but had only 1,043 other hits.

Hybrid hitters who do both are freaks. Think a center who leads the NBA in blocks and free-throw shooting, or a quarterback who leads the NFL in rushing and TD passes. Equally freaky, equally preposterous.

The quartet already in the exclusive 500/3,000 duplex may even consider projecting future tenants an affront. They know how tough it was to qualify, demanding superhuman consistency.

Mays, for one, ascribed the mere awareness of the 500/3,000 club he had founded to a modern fascination with statistics, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as Murray approached in 1996, "I can only tell you when we played it wasn't that much of a deal. Seems like now they make a big deal out of a lot of things."

Talking to the same paper, Aaron chided Say Hey: "It's an accomplishment no matter how you look at it. I don't care whether it was in my era, the Eddie Murray era, no matter when it's done.

"It's a feat that needs to be recognized," The Hammer continued. "Not quite reaching them doesn't mean you're any less a player, but you always want to reach those magic numbers."

Who among us has the double-reach?

Not the guy who seemed automatic as Murray was making it a threesome, unfortunately. Ken Griffey Jr. ended that 1996 season as a 26-year-old with 238 homers and 1,204 hits. He was stamped "can't miss."

Pure Palmeiro 3,000/500 Club

Nine seasons later, entering this July, he had 515 homers and 2,231 hits. So he hasn't exactly disappeared. But a siege of injuries denies him a realistic shot -- the same, if less heroic, way patriotism denied Ted Williams.

Teddy Ballgame would have been the charter 500/3,000 member if not for World War II and the Korean War. Around five years of military service, Williams collected 521 homers and 2,654 hits -- two mediocre seasons shy of the other magic number.

Had he been matching a standard, not setting it, Mays might have had a different view of it in that 1996 interview, when he said the media "sometimes make a big issue out of things that have already been done."

Presumably, Mays would also soften his stance if Godson Barry Bonds were about to join him in 500/3,000 -- something, alas, we aren't likely to see.

Which is a convenient segue into our 10 500/3,000 nominees, in ascending order of likelihood.

10. Barry Bonds, 40
Career (through June 30): 703 - 2,730

Even if he eventually gets his knees in swinging shape ... even if he rediscovers the passion for the game ... even if the 755 carrot draws him back -- unless all of a sudden everyone starts pitching to him, it'd take him three more seasons to get there. Not gonna happen.

9. Ken Griffey Jr., 35
515 - 2,231

The rose-colored view is that, having played only 206 games in 2002-2004, he has avoided a lot of routine wear-and-tear and has got a lot of game left. At his typical late '90s pace, he would get there in four years.

8. Alex Rodriguez, 29
401 - 1,803

Another reason for some of his peers to resent him? He could make it, quite easily, if he wished. But chances are he won't play the game long enough -- especially if the Yanks help him get that ring before his contract expires in 2010.

He then won't sign another contract -- certainly not to chase some numbers. Says so himself: "The temptation is to look too far ahead. I don't think I would play just to get records or something. Let's just see how it goes from here."

7. Manny Ramirez, 33
409 - 1,835

His ferocious power has always overshadowed the fact he is just a pure hitter, with a career average well above .300. But only if he starts putting the ball in play more often -- between walks and strikeouts, he doesn't make contact 200-plus times a year.

6. Todd Helton, 31
257 - 1,442

His current slump notwithstanding, he is setting a sizzling pace in Colorado -- but sizzling enough to overcome a late start? He played his first game at 24, significantly later than Mays (20), Aaron (20), Murray (21) and Palmeiro (21).

5. Miguel Cabrera, 22
60 - 359

The ultimate projection, obviously. But the history of those who reached the Majors at 20 and produced immediately is quite brilliant.

4. Miguel Tejada, 29
209 - 1,269

His consistent improvement has brought him to a level that, if sustained, makes him a genuine threat. But playing a physically demanding defensive position in ironman mode makes him a burnout candidate, too.

3. Vladimir Guerrero, 29
286 - 1,500

He is never cheated, has never met a pitch he didn't like or one that he couldn't reach -- he is a throwback marvel with barely two strikeouts for every home run (for a random contrast, Rodriguez has paid for his bombs with 1,182 strikeouts). He started at 20, which sets him up well.

2. Andruw Jones, 28
275 - 1,335

He has been a little too slump-prone. But, as he served a recent reminder, he can get in a zone that knows no end. He also brings speed to the party, giving him those leg-hits that can make a dramatic difference across a career. And by any yardstick, he is just entering his prime.

1. Albert Pujols, 25
180 - 888

What a model of consistency. Through his first four full seasons, Prince Albert not only averaged 40 homers, but 197 hits -- but virtually hit those marks every year! At those rates, he would reach 500/3,000 early in his 16th season, in 2016 -- when he would be only 36 years old.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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