Friday, August 19, 2011

Under the Radar No Longer

On a historical Monday night (Aug.15, 2011), while the Milwaukee Brewers superior defense turned a dazzling triple play, at Detroit’s Comerica Park, 36,211 fans witnessed a very special and significant game. Jim Thome, designated hitter of the Minnesota Twins, joined a very elite group, becoming only the eighth player in major league history to hit 600 career home runs. As an added bonus, he became the only player in history to belt both his 599th and 600th homers in the same game.

Now, let’s get this out of the way right from the get-go. The big affable slugger has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs in any way, shape or form. Of course, the inevitable discussions will now rear their ugly heads yet again, regarding his possible use of PEDs. Let’s pour cold water on the hot coals, and finally give the great Jim Thome the recognition and respect that he so rightly deserves. He has flown under everyone’s radar for many years, and that should now be silenced.

Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 13th round of the 1989 amateur draft, Thome made his major league debut on Sept. 4, 1991. In that game, the (then) third baseman went 2-4, with an RBI and run scored. The Indians defeated the Twins 8-4. Thome enjoyed 12 productive years in Cleveland, while amassing 334 home runs. In his final year with the Tribe (2002), he set a career high with 52 round trippers.

In 2003, the slugger made the move to the National League and spent three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. The first two years were very productive for Thome, as he pounded 47 and 42 home runs respectively. His next, and last, year in Philly did not go as planned, as elbow surgery limited him to 59 games and seven long balls.

With 430 dingers under his belt, he took his talents back to the American League and began the 2006 season as a member of the Chicago White Sox. Over the next four years, Thome played 529 games while combining for 134 home runs and 369 RBI. At 38 years of age, Thome continued to deliver solid and consistent production.

On Aug. 31, 2009 the Chicago White Sox sent Thome, and cash, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor-leaguer Justin Fuller. His tenure with LA lasted just 17 games. The Dodgers swept (3-0) the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series, before bowing out 4-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series.

After becoming a free agent on Nov. 6, 2009, Thome signed with the Minnesota Twins on Jan. 26, 2010. On Jan. 14, 2011, Thome once again became a free agent and re-signed with the Twins. So far in his current run with the Twinkies, he has produced 36 homers and 97 RBI.

At age 40, Jim Thome remains a dangerous and productive hitter. The exclusive company he now keeps in the 600+ club includes Barry Bonds (762) Hank Aaron (755) Babe Ruth (714) Willie Mays (660) Ken Griffey Jr. (630) Sammy Sosa (609) and Alex Rodriquez (626 and counting). And of those eight, three of them, Bonds, Sosa and A-Rod, have had their image tainted as a result of PED admission, or suspicion. At age 40, Thome is the oldest to hit 600 bombs, and needed the second-fewest at-bats to do it.

In an illustrious career now in its 21st season, the burly slugger has collected 600 home runs and 1662 RBI. Is he worthy of a trip to Cooperstown? I have no doubt in my mind. A true gentleman who plays the game with respect, Jim Thome deserves to be a Hall of Famer.


Will Braund said...

Great choice for a terrific but virtually ignored player to profile.

Elizabeth said...

Well said.

It drives me crazy that there is this automatic knee-jerk response to any sort of superior athletic prowess.

(Watch, there is going to be a group applying for a government grant to exhume Samson's body to check for evidence of PEDs....)

Rick Blechta said...

The real issue here is that Jim Thome isn't all that flashy, he's never played "the big guy on the team", he hasn't thrown tantrums, he didn't play for the Yankees or Red Sox (and when he was with Philly, they weren't like they are now).

He's a good person and a dedicated ball player of great talent.

It's nice to see someone like this get a little press now and then.

Great choice, Larry. Thanks!