Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals became only the 16th ballplayer in history to hit his 500th home run yesterday. In the game between the Cardinals and the San Diego Padres in St. Louis, the sell-out crowd of 45,106 burst into frenzied cheers as the super-slugger belted his 500th homer in the third inning, and went on to execute no. 501 in the eighth.

Even the Padres' Tony Gwynn, who fell just short of being the 22nd player to reach 3,000 hits, batting his 2,999 in the ninth inning, wanted to join in the McGwire ovation. "I'm wondering, 'Should I clap like everybody else or be a professional?'" Gwynn said.

As if joining the elite cadre of 500-homerun-hitters, along with legends Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle weren't enough, McGwire got there in the fewest at-bats ever -- 5,487, smashing Babe Ruth's former record of 5,801 at-bats.

"I've exceeded everything I expected of myself. Growing up as a kid, you don't think about things like that. At least I didn't. You just think about playing ball in your yard," McGwire said in the post-game press conference.

What does this all mean for collectors?

McGwire's 500th homer zoomed past the wall, defelected off an advertisement, and landed in the shrubbery beyond the wall. Fans raced and scrambled to get their hands on the new piece of history. Jim Shearer, a 28-year-old St. Louis architect, garnered the prize ball, which some experts estimate could easily be worth $1 million. "It is one of the most valuable baseballs of all time," said Michael D. Barnes, president of One-Of-A-Kind Auctions, seller of Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball.

THE 500 HOME RUN CLUB


Player HR Career Avg. Led League 40 Best HR %(at bat) HR per 162 Games
Hank Aaron 755 .305 4 8 47 6.11 37
Babe Ruth 714 .342 12 11 60 8.50 46
Willie Mays 660 .302 4 6 52 6.07 36
Frank Robinson 586 .294 1 1 49 5.86 34
Harmon Killebrew 573 .256 6 8 49 7.03 38
Reggie Jackson 563 .262 4 2 47 5.71 32
Mike Schmidt 548 .267 8 3 48 6.56 37
Mickey Mantle 536 .298 4 4 54 6.62 36
Jimmie Foxx 534 .325 4 5 58 6.57 37
Willie McCovey 521 .270 3 2 45 6.36 33
Ted Williams 521 .344 4 1 43 6.76 37
Ernie Banks 512 .274 2 5 47 5.43 33
Eddie Mathews 512 .271 2 4 47 6.00 35
Mel Ott 511 .304 6 1 42 5.40 30
Eddie Murray 504 .287 1 0 33 4.45 27
Mark McGwire 501 .265 3* 6 70 9.08 49


* McGwire led the majors with 58 home runs in 1997, but he didn't lead in either league.