World’s Greatest Living Peorian Jim Thome (apologies to Joe Girardi) moved up in baseball’s record books on Monday night by becoming the eighth player in big-league history to hit his 600th career home run. There will be no HBO special to capture the chase to this accomplishment (as far as we know), but it’s likely the most significant milestone accomplished in baseball this year.
Home run totals have become a source of skepticism in modern times as a result of the steroid era, but anyone that has doubts about the legitimacy of Thome’s accomplishment represents a very small minority. Usually their arguments consist of “He’s a media favorite so no one is going to dig anything up on him” or “Sure, when the white guy hits a lot of home runs nobody questions it.”
I think that the real answer is that it is actually possible for a player to think using PED’s was wrong if he has a strong enough moral center. Like former Twin great Harmon Killebrew, “strong” seems to be the only way to describe Thome — in every way.
But enough philosophizing. I decided to have some fun with Thome’s numbers, at least the ones I was capable of finding.
– Thome hit 25 homers in the minor leagues, including 12 in rookie ball with the Burlington (NC) Indians. He was the 333rd overall pick in the 1989 Draft
– He hit no homers while playing for the Dodgers in 17 games at the end of 2009. Needless to say, he will not be going to the Hall of Fame with LA on his cap. (More importantly, I totally forgot he even played for them in the first place).
-According to Baseball Reference’s “Elo rater,” which actually measures batters rather than the awesomeness of various Electric Light Orchestra songs*, Thome is the 57th-best hitter in baseball history. That puts him in-between Barry Bonds (I know he juiced but c’mon, 56th is pretty low) and Harry Heilmann (Who is Harry Heilmann? A dude who was really awesome and had the misfortune of peaking at the exact same time as Babe Ruth).
– Thome was the fifth-youngest player in the majors when he was called up by the Indians in 1991, and is currently the fifth-oldest player. If you’re wondering, the youngest guy in ’91 was Todd Van Poppel. The oldest still playing is Tim Wakefield.
– Thome is tied with five others for the all-time lead with 12 career walk-off homers. He is tied with Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson, all of whom are among the best players in the Hall of Fame itself.
– Which pitchers have served up the greatest number of Thome’s 600 bombs? Rick Reed (9 in 27 ABs — a .333 home run average! Did it occur to any of Reed’s managers that pitching to Thome might not work out well?), Roger Clemens (8 HR/59 AB), Justin Verlander (7 HR/43 AB), Bobby Witt (6 HR/24 AB), Eric Milton (6 HR/37 AB) and Mike Mussina (6 HR/53 AB).
*The difficulty of creating an “ELO rater” has been established by the video I have linked for the song “Turn To Stone.” I mean, what is even the best part of this particular song? The hair? The blue violin? The guy playing like eight different keyboards? The dueling rock cellists? Now multiply that difficulty into assessing every song against one another, and we’re talking serious brain explosion. It’s still amazing to me that in the ’70s you could combine any number of blatantly cheesy things and pull it off it off as awesome.