August 16, 2011
Thome built his case for Cooperstown long before Monday night, when he hit career home runs 599 and 600, becoming just the eighth major leaguer to reach the plateau.
Only the great Babe Ruth needed fewer career at-bats — 6,921 — to reach 600 homers. Thome did it in 8,167.
Sounds like the makings of a Hall of Fame profile, right? But, because of recent suspicions over performance-enhancing drugs — and suspicion is all it amounts to — many with voting power look at anyone who has played during the past 25 years with a raised eyebrow. And it's obviously affected Hall of Fame voting.
We're not just talking about Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro, both of whom defied Congress. Jeff Bagwell, a better player than either of them — better than Thome, too — got 41.7 percent of the vote his first time on the ballot. Can Thome expect the same kind of underwhelming results down the road?
Being circumspect is good, it should even be required, but if we are to add any Hall of Famers at all from recent history, then Thome must be among them. Frankly, the burden of proof for keeping him and others like him out should be on the skeptics. And they have very little to go on.
Thome, on the other hand, has a transcendent record of greatness since breaking in with the Cleveland Indians in 1991:
• He is 23rd all time in extra-base hits.
• He's 21st in slugging percentage.
• Eighth in walks.
• 42nd in times on base.
• 40th in total bases.
• And he's 41st in adjusted OPS (on-base percentage, plus slugging, adjusting for park and league factors). That's better than 50-plus Hall of Famers. I stopped counting.
That's just a few of his accomplishments. Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski makes a more poetic case for Thome:
Jim Thome has been a great hitter. Not a good hitter. Not a very good hitter. He has been a slam-dunk, first-ballot, no-doubt Hall of Famer hitter. People have missed this because, well, people have missed a lot about Jim Thome. The man has a .403 lifetime on-base percentage, 25th all-time for players with 7,500 plate appearances, higher than DiMaggio, higher than Wagner, higher than Mays or Yaz or Rose or Ichiro(notes). Many people will never respect on-base percentage the way they should, because many people just don't like walks. But walking is an art. And Thome is Picasso.
Nearly 41 years old and slowed by various aches and pains, Thome expressed relief at getting to 600.
"Hitting home runs can be very difficult," Thome said. "You sit in bed at night and you think about how's it going to be, how are you going to do this? It goes back to trying to slow yourself down and not being too antsy, too hyped up. It's just a great night."
After not having gone deep since Aug. 4, Thome hit a two-run homer in the sixth and followed it with a three-run shot against left-hander Daniel Schlereth(notes) in the seventh for No. 600. Both went to the opposite field in Cavernous Comerica Park.
Thome's wife, Andrea, his kids and his father, Chuck, were among those who went on the field with the other Minnesota Twins to congratulate him. And the Comerica Park crowd gave him a nice hand, even though Thome was helping to beat the Tigers, who are in the middle of a pennant race.
Other greats with 600-plus homers — Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey — were among those who sent messages of congratulations.
"Welcome to the club," Mays said — which leads to that next question about Thome: Is he a member of the Hall of Fame club?
It's irritating that we have to ask. It should be obvious that he is.
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