Jim Thome‘s name needs to be in more headlines. The Minnesota Twins slugger is nearing some of baseball’s most rarified air, but there are no countdowns on ESPN, or the MLB Network itself. No live look-in to his every at-bat, nor non-stop analysis of his march towards career home run number 600.
The world’s worst three letter word for any Big Leaguer with an eye on his legacy: PED. Thome’s name was never linked to performance enhancers, but the dark cloud of that era is hanging over him; his pursuit of 600 homers; and his Hall of Fame status when he finally hangs up his spikes.
Major League Baseball’s 500 homer club has a decent membership, but only seven other players can boast 600 long balls in a career. Of the seven, four–Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey, Jr.–joined the 600 club in the past eight years with only Griffey not being linked to PEDs: for now at least. Before that explosion of power, only Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Wille Mays had reached that milestone over a 40 year stretch.
Thome’s always tested clean, but will that be enough for the Hall of Fame voters? For my money, his numbers(.277 BA, .403 OBP, .558 slugging percentage, 2,256 hits, 598 homers, 1,654 RBI) are more than worthy of a first-ballot invite to Cooperstown. Especially when you compare his totals to the game’s legendary sluggers.
Mr. October, Reggie Jackson(563); Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas(521), the hit kings Ty Cobb(117) and Pete Rose(160), and the first man to hit 70 homers, Mark McGwire(583). All Hall of Famers( or deserve to be). All men who failed to clear the fences for that magical 600th time. Still, the majority of baseball fans are more excited about Bryce Harper‘s minor league stats; and Thome’s name is rarely mentioned with baseball’s best home run threats.
If baseball wants to clean upthe mess of the steroid era, it should give more publicity to one of the few clean players of that period. Instead, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are hot button issues that cost hordes of tax dollars.
Then again, maybe a power hitter with no history of PED use is too boring for the American sports pallette? Or maybe he’s missing a sexy nickname like “The Great Bambino”, “Charlie Hustle”, or “The Georgia Peach”?
To be fair he’s only managed eight homers to this point in the year, and at this pace, that rare milestone might not come this season at all. But when you consider that among active players, only St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols‘ (432 homers) has a legit chance to hit 600; Thome’s power numbers are even more impressive. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Prince Fielder and the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera are the only sub-30 active players with 200, but their combined total is only 485.
Maybe the collective eyes of the sports world will be on Jim Thome’s every swing when he reaches 599, but the nicest guy in baseball deserves all the fanfare Derek Jeter‘s 3,000 hit did. Interest in his magical quest could really skyrocket if Thome clears waivers and the Twins give him one last shot at a World Series ring with a real contender. I hope the fix is in for him to replace Pat Burrell in San Francisco, but a class act like he’s been for years, deserves a reward for all his accomplishments on the diamond. But a real reward would be a little love from the pundits, experts, and most importantly, the fans.