"How come," he demanded, "more people aren't talking about Thome and 600?"
What Jim Thome did on a summer's evening Monday in Detroit was absolutely astounding. That time, apparently, left the building with Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.
Only seven men before Thome had reached 600: Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa.
Just check out this tweet from Twins teammate Michael Cuddyer (@mcuddy5) moments after the Twins polished off Detroit 9-6 on Tuesday: "Jim Thome is the definition of class, talent, work ethic, and longevity. "Thome is like my son. You see, few people know Thome like Manuel knows him. Manuel managed a 20-year-old Thome at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 1991. Then the two were together in Cleveland from 1994-2002, Manuel as Thome's hitting coach from '94-'99, then as his manager from 2000 through '02.
It's not a stretch to say that, if not for Thome, Manuel probably would not be managing the Phillies today. Thome signed with the Phillies as a free agent before the '03 season.
A free agent himself that winter, Manuel, Thome's hitting guru, was brought to the Phillies as a "special assistant." You could say that about 98 percent of that role involved watching Thome's swing, making sure that Thome adjusted, ensuring that he was comfortable in Philly.
Thome wound up leaving after three seasons, traded to the White Sox in the Aaron Rowand deal following the '05 campaign, a swap that Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick still points to as the deal that kick-started the current Phillies' run. Manuel wound up staying, replacing Larry Bowa in the manager's seat.
The ties between Thome and his beloved hitting guru remained unbroken. When Manuel managed the Phillies to only the second World Series title in franchise history in 2008? Thome flew back and was in the park for the clinching game. Thome has been phoning Manuel regularly since last summer as he inched closer and closer to 600.
"Aw, Chuck," Thome said back. "The wind was blowing ... but I hit it good."
Minnesota (57, in 186 games) is second.
Even those he's vanquished stand and applaud: "Congrats to Jim Thome on #600," tweeted Tigers ace Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander). "Thome. Looking for something to do during the 1994 strike, Thome used his down time to organize a softball tournament for the hospital. "It is an honor and a privilege to welcome another member to the 600 Home Run Club, especially someone like Jim Thome, who is not just a great baseball player, but a great person as well," Griffey said in a statement Monday night. Jim Thome is a Teddy Roosevelt kind of baseball player. He speaks softly but swings a big stick.
That big stick has now belted 600 home runs during his remarkable 20-year career after Monday’s two-homer night in Detroit. Thome has joined one of baseball’s most exclusive groups. Only eight players have topped 600 home runs during their careers. Have the Minnesota Twins aided Thome’s lack of attention with their dismal season and their ever-creative ways of losing ballgames?
Jim Thome is that type of player. Are baseball fans weary of home run records in the wake of the sport’s recent oversaturation of steroid scandals?
Thome is a throwback-type-of-player. Maybe then baseball fans will start speaking loudly for the man who swings a big stick.
By hitting his 600th career home run, Jim Thome has entered one of baseball’s most exclusive neighborhoods. By my count, he joins Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only players to reach that milestone without artificial aid.
If Thome wasn’t already a certain Hall of Famer, he is now. Maybe it’s because Thome is the epitome of a DH, and that makes him less than a complete player. The Cooperstown eye test is not without merit, and Thome looks more like a beer-league Hall of Famer than Cooperstowner.
Besides homers, Thome is not top 10 in any other stat except strikeouts, where he is second. Thome put up most of his numbers in an era when offense was produced at an unprecedented rate. Performance-enhancing drugs played more than a little role in that but the clean players—that includes Thome—still are dinged.
When Thome hit 49 homers in 2001, for example, 11 others also topped 40. Those guys are icons, among the greatest players ever. Complete players. They hit .300, stole 20-plus bases and played Gold Glove defense. Without question, those players had careers greater than Thome. But that doesn’t mean Thome hasn’t had a great career.
Thome has done plenty more that hit homers, too. He has a .403 career on-base percentage, which ranks 20th all-time. His .960 OPS is 17th all-time. Thome’s integrity and passion for the game always have been worthy of the Hall.