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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Rob Manfred says Tampa Bay must pick up pace on new stadium

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wants Tampa Bay to work a little quicker on getting the Rays a new ballpark.

Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg has been working for nearly a decade to get a new stadium for the club and signed a three-year agreement with the City of St. Petersburg early in 2016 to search for a site in the Tampa Bay area. Manfred wants that search to pick up some steam.

“I think it’s fair to say we want the process to take on a better pace moving forward,” Manfred said Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, home of the Rays since their first season in 1998.

The Rays were averaging 15,815 fans per game before Wednesday night’s contest against the Toronto Blue Jays. That is just over half the major league average of 30,470. Tropicana Field and its location have been almost universally blamed as the reason for the poor attendance.

“I’ve been pretty clear that they need a new facility here, a major league quality facility in an A-plus location,” Manfred said. “It is time to move that decision to the front burner here in Tampa.”

The matter of how a stadium would be financed has been tabled until a site is determined, but Sternberg continued to express confidence in the Tampa Bay market.

“I’ve had the opportunity to bail on it many times over the years,” he said. “I won’t say this is a slam dunk, it’s certainly not. But I think we can do something that’ll at least double our attendance. That’s a lot to ask for.”

Manfred said Major League Baseball “doesn’t have a firm timetable” for what steps to take if the Rays fail to get an agreement to build a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area, but but added that “it is a topic of discussion in the industry, the lack of progress.”

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Robinson Cano leaves game with hamstring tightness

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Bad news for the Mariners this evening: Robinson Cano left Seattle’s game against the Atlanta Braves with tightness in his left hamstring.

Cano walked off the field after legging out a double — his second of the game — in the third inning. He pulled up as he approached second base and walked off the field, accompanied by a trainer. There was no immediate word on the severity of the injury. The Mariners have a day off Thursday before opening a series at the Yankees on Friday night, so they have some time to evaluate him.

Cano is hitting .277/.377/.460 with 19 homers and 78 RBI on the year.