Danny Knobler asks that question in light of Jim Thome’s signing and his inevitable 600th home run:
Thome is entirely likeable, by teammates, fans and writers alike. A whole bunch of people will be happy for him when he gets to 600. But will it feel magic?
I’m not so sure it will.
This just isn’t the same as when 600 belonged only to Aaron, Ruth and Mays. Thome has been a fine player, but he’s not Aaron and he’s not Ruth and he’s not Mays — and I imagine he would happily admit that. That’s not to say 600 is now meaningless, not at all. It’s a great accomplishment, and even after the steroid era, it’s not a common accomplishment … That’s a good thing. If 600 home runs is going to be special, we can’t be having a run at 600 every year … Now, is it still special? Is there any magic left in it? Jim Thome will tell us.
I don’t think anyone would ever claim that Jim Thome was as good as Ruth, Aaron or Mays, and if they did they’d need to get their head examined. But why do we insist that numbers are somehow “magical?”
If Jim Thome hit 600 home runs, it means that in the home run department he did exactly what the other 600 home run hitters did. Don’t we diminish Thome if, the second he hits 600, we declare the feat to be no longer “magical?” Kind of insulting, ain’t it?
How about this: it always was just a number. It always will be just a number. There’s nothing magical about it. Indeed, there’s nothing that the number 600 tells us beyond the fact that 600 home runs have been hit. We can assess Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and yes, even Jim Thome just fine without wondering if one of their achievements is merely special, extra special or — gasp! — magical.