A-Rod hit his 600th home run and no one blinked. No one cared that a tainted player got a milestone because of the fact that he was tainted. It was really
an editorial on how most people feel about steroids. They are skeptical of the records, in disharmony with the players who cheated, and generally indifferent to any milestones they reach.
This is a story about none of that.
Jim Thome is sitting on 577 home runs and is something to be excited about. He played in the Steroid Era, sure, but in a time when everyone has had some dirt thrown on them, Thome has remained immaculate. He is one of the real good guys in baseball, who would be liked by everyone if he opened his mouth a little more often. We often complain of the new generation of players being too self-centered and there not being enough throwback guys, but Thome has been there all along. He has done everything right throughout his career, and when he reaches that milestone next year or even the year after that, we should embrace him with open arms.
Most people are not aware of Thome’s greatness, remembering him only as a big lug who could hit it a long way, but he started his career at 3rd in Cleveland, where he hit over .300 in 2 of his first 3 full seasons and hit 83 home runs in that span (including the strike shortened 1994 season). He was not the most polished 3rd basemen, but he filled his role incredibly well and helped lead the Indians to the AL Pennant in 1995. After moving to 1st, things just kept getting better, as he finished 6th in MVP voting his first year on the job and hitting 40 home runs. Even those looking to throw dirt would struggle to do so as in the Year of the Homer, 1998, Thome’s numbers were down. He was at the heart of the outstanding Indians teams of the 90s, but is often forgotten when discussing the best players of his era because so many guys have come up dirty. It would be easy for Thome to gripe and complain about it, but he doesn’t. He just keeps doing his job and helping his team win games.
Now it is well documented that I am an Indians fan, and that bias might come into play here, but I defy you to find someone who did not like Jim Thome as a person or player. The only complaint I have ever heard about him is that he struck out too much, but with a career OPS of .960 and that many home runs, I think it would be fair to classify that as nitpicking. He has been the epi-thome (bad pun intended) of class throughout his career, both on the field and off it.
Even in his darker years, he remained the picture of class. After signing with the Phillies and rejoining hitting coach Charlie Manuel (yes, that Charlie Manuel) and having a very good couple of seasons, Thome’s career took a turn for the worst, hitting only a touch over .200 and only 7 home runs in 59 games. He seemingly lost it, but he did not let the frustration change him. He just put his head down and worked his way back into form. He did exactly what we wish more players would do, but for whatever reason we did not pay attention to him. He is what we have been looking for as far as likeable, humble, baseball players, but we just have not noticed him. We should change that.
Thome will not reach the milestone this year, and if he is a little unlucky, he may not reach the milestone at all. However, that does not mean that he does not deserve your complete support in his search for a milestone that does hold some significance even if the skepticism around baseball sneers at A-Rod. It is because Thome is not A-Rod, and is in fact the opposite of A-Rod in many ways. Both are extremely talented, but the similarities end there.
Class. High Performance. Worthy. Jim Thome: The Clean Machine.