Jim Thome has always been the type who let his play do the talking. His dignified and quiet persona has allowed him to play 21 seasons in somewhat anonymity. But on August 15, the slugger from Peoria, IL hit a ball loud enough for all baseball fans to hear. That’s when Thome became just the 8th member of the 600 homerun club, solidifying his hall of fame status.
Surprisingly, writers from several media outlets still doubt Thome’s hall of fame chances. Detractors feel that he was never one of the 2 or 3 best players at his position, lacks awards, and he played designated hitter (DH) too much to be a hall of famer. In a nutshell, they feel Thome belongs in the class of very good ballplayers but not with the greats in the hall of fame. But when you take a look at Thome’s numbers, he is already among baseball’s greats. His .403 on-base percentage is better than the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Rickey Henderson. His 1 homerun per 13.6 at bat ratio is 5th all time, ahead of Ted Williams and Albert Pujols. To celebrate his consistency, from 1995-2008 Thome averaged 37 homers and 100 RBI. Within that stretch, he had a five year period (2000-2004) averaging a .281 batting average, 45 homers, 117 RBI and finished top seven in MVP voting three times. I would say that’s playing like one of the best at your position.
Thome hasn’t been a DH his whole career either. He spent 16 of his 21 seasons playing first or third base and compiled a .988 fielding percentage. He has also shown clutch hitting with his 12 walk off homeruns which ranks second all time. Finally, the guy has just accomplished something that seven men prior have done, four of them clean of performance enhancing drug use. Thome hit his 600th homerun in fewer at bats than anyone other than Babe Ruth, and he did it all the right way.
Sure, Thome wasn’t the Hollywood ballplayer with endorsement deals bursting from his bank account. All he did was play the game with dignity and put up numbers that rival almost anyone in history. He didn’t lie, cheat or cut any corners. He just used his God-given ability to slug his way through the record books. Thome’s plaque will be revealed in Cooperstown five years or so after his retirement. The true baseball writers will recognize that Thome may have played the game quietly but he sure as hell carried a big stick.