600 homers or not, Thome was already Hall-worthy

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Jim Thome joined an elite club on Monday night when he became the eighth player in MLB history to hit 600 home runs. Now that the Minnesota Twins designated hitter has reached such a special milestone, be prepared to hear the question: “Does this make Jim Thome a Hall of Famer?”

I’ve got news for you: Thome didn’t need the milestone. He was already worthy of Cooperstown.

This has nothing to do with Thome being a good guy both with the media and in general (he’s one of the best), and it has nothing to do with his charitable contributions to society (he’s paying for all 10 of his nieces and nephews to go through college). Plenty of players give good interviews and do nice things for people.

No, this has to do with the sheer numbers and impact on the game. It has to do with quietly putting up strong statistics year after year for 21 seasons, compiling one of the most impressive power hitting resumes in baseball history.

Knock Thome, if you will, for spending the bulk of his career as a DH. After all, it’s only fair to give more credence to players who can hit and play defense. Give him demerits for striking out more than 2,400 times, for only being an All-Star five times, for never winning an MVP award or a World Series.

But then remember the 1,700 walks (eighth all time), the .403 on-base percentage (better than Rickey Henderson), and the respectable .277 batting average (better than Joe Morgan). Thome’s hulking presence might remind one of Paul Bunyan, but he was never an all-or-nothing axe-wielding hacker a la Dave Kingman or Rob Deer.

In examining the numbers, Baseball-reference says Thome’s career compares most closely to those of Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Mike Schmidt, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey, and Willie Stargell. All of those players are in Cooperstown except for Thomas, who will be once he gains eligibility, and Sosa, a fellow member of the 600-homer club whose career has been tainted by a connection to steroids.

Thomas is an interesting comparison because like Thome, his career was spent mostly at DH. He was rightly feared as one of the best hitters of his era, notching three seasons with an OPS over 1.000, including the monster 1994 campaign of 1.217. Thomas’ career OPS is an impressive .974, but Thome’s is just a notch behind at .960. Thomas’ OPS+ is a whopping 156, but Thome’s is 147. The gulf between the players is not as wide as you might imagine.

As far as the steroids era, there is no way Thome can escape it. Type “steroids Thome” into Google and the search engine spits out more than 700,000 entries, some of which cite the steroids era as dampening excitement for the slugger’s march to 600 home runs. While Thome has never been connected to performance-enhancing drugs, it’s impossible for any player, particularly a power hitter, to avoid being tarnished by the era. It’s not fair, it’s just the way it is.

But until there is some evidence of cheating – remember, Thome’s name did not come up in the Mitchell Report, the BALCO scandal, or in any other PED investigation – we’ve got to take the man and his legacy at face value.

Prepare a place in Cooperstown, because Jim Thome has earned his place in the Hall.

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Jeff Wilpon reminds Mets fans that insuring David Wright “is not cheap”

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It’s can’t be easy being a Mets fan. Your team plays in the biggest city in America and should, theoretically, have big payrolls and always be in contention. They aren’t, however, partially because of horrendous luck and ill-timed injuries, partially because of poor baseball decisions and partially because the team’s ownership got taken down by a Ponzi scheme that, one would think anyway, sophisticated businessmen would recognize as a Ponzi scheme. We’ll leave that go, though.

What Mets fans are left with are (a) occasional windows of contention, such as we saw in 2014-16; (b) times of frustrating austerity on the part of ownership when, one would hope anyway, some money would be spent; (c) an inordinate focus on tabloidy and scandalous nonsense which just always seems to surround the club; and (c) a lot of disappointment.

You can file this latest bit under any of or many of the above categories, but it is uniquely Mets.

Team president Jeff Wilpon spoke to the press this afternoon about team payroll. In talking about payroll, David Wright‘s salary was included despite the fact that he may never play again and despite the fact that insurance is picking up most of the tab. Wilpon’s comment:

I’m guessing every team has a line item, someplace, about the costs of insurance. They’re businesses after all, and all businesses have to deal with that. They do not talk about it as a barrier to spending more money on players to the press, however, as they likely know that fans want to be told a story of hope and baseball-driven decisions heading into a new season and do not want to hear about all of the reasons the club will not spend any money despite sitting in a huge market.

This doesn’t change a thing about what the Mets were going to do or not do, but it does have the added bonus of making Mets fans roll their eyes and ask themselves what they did to deserve these owners. And that, more than almost anything, is the essence of Mets fandom these days.