As I watched Monday Night Football last night, and by the way, suck it Rexy, the reports came in that Jim Thome had hit 2 home runs to reach 600 in his career. He became only the 8th player in history to reach this milestone. However, as the game came to a close and SportsCenter opened with this historic event, I was utterly shocked at the fact that they were actually debating what this means for his Hall of Fame chances. The very idea that any player to join this elite club would not be on the fast track to a first ballot trip to the Hall, seems ludicrous. Right?
As I began my due diligence to research the numbers that would once and for all prove my opinion correct, a funny thing happened. I came to realize that Jim Thome WILL be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but not for the reason I had originally thought. Yes, 600 home runs is very significant, and his career numbers are solid. Match his stats up against the guy behind him on the home run list, Frank Robinson, and aside from the batting average, Thome’s stats are arguably better. Unfortunately, those numbers were much more relevant for Robinson because they put him among the top 5 players in the game in his era. This is reflected most clearly in the amount of All Star appearances and MVP votes that Robinson received. Thome was cursed with the fact that he played in a time where there were far more power hitters, like McGuire, Sosa, Palmiro, Bonds, and A-Rod. However, it’s this very curse that will get him a first ballot election to Cooperstown. The curse is, and will be forever known as, The Steroid Era.
The Baseball Writers have made it very clear that they will NEVER elect a suspected steroid user into the Hall of Fame. Players who would have otherwise been in on their first year of eligibility, are barely getting any votes at all, and the future does not look good for guys like Bonds and A-Rod. Then there’s Thome. A guy who is, by all accounts, a great guy, a gritty ballplayer, and a NON-USER. When you put the use of steroids in the conversation, Thome’s accomplishment becomes even more valid. First of all, Sosa wouldn’t even be a member of the 600+ club, which means Thome would be one of only 7 players to hit 600. In addition Bonds would probably have less than 700 home runs, which would increase the importance of this club. Therefore, making it virtually impossible for any writer to not grant immediate membership to the Hall. In a time when so many guys, from Bonds, to Brady Anderson, to Luis Gonzalez, were putting up huge power numbers, Thome just kept on putting up 30+ HR’s per year. During his career he had 5 seasons in the 30’s, 6 seasons in the 40’s, and one season in the 50’s. In comparison, Bonds had 6 seasons in the 30’s, 7 in the 40’s, and one in the ludicrous 70’s. That’s 1 more season in the 30’s and 1 more in the 40’s for Barry. Not exactly the blowout lead in numbers you would expect from Bonds, especially when you factor in the PED’s.
In the end, the voters would like nothing more than to vote a very good player, with very good numbers, into Cooperstown because he was a great guy, who worked hard to be the player he was, and didn’t take any shortcuts for personal gain. However, it will more likely be the first REAL chance the writers will get, to send a clear message to users that not only will we not vote you in, but we are going to fast track the guys who did it right. I can’t say that I blame them. Better luck next year, Barry.