Where Tim Kurkjian Gets it Oh So Wrong on Jim Thome

Jim Thome hit two home runs Monday night to become the eighth player in MLB history to reach 600 career home runs. We’ve already gone through the myriad of reasons Thome’s accomplishment did not receive much attention. ESPN did a good job making up for a lack of a countdown with thorough coverage Monday. They led off SportsCenter with Thome’s achievement; it was the top headline on their homepage news feed; and it was the main centerpiece slide on their homepage. They also had veteran reporter/analyst Tim Kurkjian do a two-minute long feature on the man. It was in the feature where one of Kurkjian’s passages irked me.

“There have been more than 17,000 players in Major League history and this week Thome became only the eighth player to hit 600 home runs,” Kurkjian began. “In the aftermath of the steroid era, that no longer means certain induction in the Hall of Fame. But from all indications, Thome hit his 600 cleanly with no aid from performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, it was a combination of work ethic, tremendous strength, and the ability to hit home runs.”

That was said in Kurkjian’s video feature. His written column on Thome referenced steroids and PEDs more subtly. “Thome’s numbers came without flair, flash or controversy, especially involving steroids,” Kurjian wrote. He also pointed out that three other members of the 600 home run club (Bonds, Sosa, Rodriguez) were tied to PEDs.

There is a major, major fault with Kurkjian’s report that must be addressed. It’s an issue that reflects the stance of many other notable baseball writers, and one that colors the viewpoint of many fans.

Kurkjian tries to make the assertion that Jim Thome hit his 600 home runs cleanly while many other players did not. I ask one simple question: How does Kurkjian know?

Was he in the clubhouse with Thome everyday? Did he trail him home after games? Did he travel with him on the road? How would Kurkjian know if Thome did or didn’t use?

He wouldn’t know just like none of us would know. That’s where he errs.

When viewing players from the 1990s and 2000s, you have to look at them as a whole rather than individuals. That’s the only fair way to assess them.

If you get to the root of Kurkjian’s argument, it’s that we should not suspect anyone of using steroids who was not part of a controversy. That’s simply illogical because it ignores how we learned about players’ connections with steroids. People forget that the public’s limited knowledge of players using steroids comes mostly from one of four sources:

1) If Jose Canseco wrote or talked about you
2) If you had ties to BALCO
3) If you had ties to Brian McNamee
4) If you had ties to Kirk Radomski

Canseco played mostly with the A’s, Rangers, Red Sox, and Rays. It was mostly Giants players who had ties to BALCO. McNamee worked with the Yankees and Blue Jays. Radomski was a clubhouse attendant for the Mets. If you throw in the Orioles ring that was exposed through Jason Grimsley, and the Dodgers ring led by Paul LoDuca, you’re talking 10 teams. Got that? 10 teams out of 30 for which we have knowledge, yet Tim Kurkjian wants writers and fans to vote on the Baseball Hall of Fame based on (at best) 33% of the available information.

The Mitchell Report gave us a glimpse of the problem, not a comprehensive view of the entire issue. That’s because Mitchell’s discoveries were based on access to information; Radomski was his greatest source. Does that mean players connected to Radomski were the only ones using PEDs? Was Radomski the only roids resource in baseball?

Radomski didn’t have connections to the Cubs, Phillies, Cardinals, Pirates, Astros, Mariners, and countless other teams. Canseco never played for any of those squads either. Maybe that’s the reason there have been no indications about certain players using steroids.

The public not having “any indications” that a player used steroids does not mean that they did not use them. It also does not mean the player did use them. It simply means that we don’t have concrete information suggesting they did. Because of that reason, the only fair way to judge all players is by grouping them into the same category: athletes of the Steroids Era.

I’ve already wholly explained how that pertains to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As I’ve said many times before, the only proper solution to this issue is having a steroids wing where all players of the era are voted based on their on-field accomplishments. Steroid speculation must be left aside in order to evaluate all players fairly.

Around The Web

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=834645797 Ross Bonander

    I disagree, I think bigtime baseball insiders like Kurkjian and Gammons know better than anyone else who was juicing and who wasn’t.  If anything, a piece like Kurkjian’s today specifying Thome as clean is a case of a guy accidentally tipping his hand. 

  • http://larrybrownsports.com Larry Brown

    Was he in the clubhouse? Around all the players? How would he know

  • Gene

    I totally agree with you.  Maybe Derek Jeter got to 3,000 hits because he used HGH at times to hasten his recovery from being banged up at shortstop so that he could play the next day.  Maybe Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard are hitting homers with help from various substances.  We just do not know, and either do knowledgeable reporters like Gammons or Kurkjian.

    The players brought this sense of  doubt upon themselves because none of them had the guts to publicly go against their union and denounced the use of PED’s while leaders Fehr and Orza cried “right of privacy”.

  • Ryan Henning

    I feel as though, if this article was written perhaps 5 years ago I would agree entirely. Since that time, however, steroid testing has become a little bit more effective and netted some bigger names, in my mind indicating that baseball is OK dragging big names through the mud (i.e. Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro etc.) I don’t disagree with the assertion that Jim Thome may have done steroids or used PEDs at some point in his career; I would be foolish to do so. I will, however, not that he HAS continued to hit home runs at an advanced age (baseball wise) without once testing positive. So, perhaps in his halcyon days he received a boost, but I think his late career, if anything, has proven that above all else he is simply an elite power hitter.
    Also, if you have watched the Twins this year, you can be almost certain there is nothing helping their bats.

  • http://larrybrownsports.com Larry Brown

    No doubt testing changes things, but Thome played most of his career without testing. Doesn’t mean he did anything. Doesn’t mean he didn’t. We just don’t know, therefore we shouldn’t pick and choose with players — that’s unfair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=834645797 Ross Bonander

    Guys like Gammons have been covering baseball since the early 1970s.  That means clubhouse access.  Writers have been denied membership to the BBWAA because they don’t go to the park often enough, meaning being there, covering the games, talking to the players, is part and parcel of the job.  Read Buster Olney’s “An Outside the Park Investigation” in The New York Times from 2006.  In that he writes, 

    “In the spring of
    2002, I wrote an article for The Times quoting general managers on the record
    about what effect, if any, possible steroid use had on contract offers. I felt
    good about the article, until this thought hit me: I could’ve written the same
    piece six years earlier. Even if I hadn’t been able to get the specifics, I
    could have done a better job of reporting how people in baseball thought the
    game was being changed by performance-enhancing drugs … I had a role in baseball’s institutional failure during what will be forever known as the Steroid Era …”

    It’s naive to think these guys didn’t know.  They’re journalists.  It’s their job.  Unfortunately, no one stepped up and encouraged their editor to take an investigative approach, likely because home runs were good for them as much as they were for the players and the league.  The conflict of interest, coupled with the desire not to be the whistle-blower, kept them quiet, clearing the way for who, of all people, to scoop them, but Jose freakin Canseco. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=834645797 Ross Bonander

    I agree with you here.  The implication is that Thome is one of the good guys, and he may very well be.  But it will be impossible to ever know.  Steroids have necessarily tainted every player of that generation.  Everyone, now and in the future, will look at anyone’s stats from this era and, evidence or not, be forced to wonder whether or not they juiced.

  • http://larrybrownsports.com Larry Brown

    If they know so much of what’s going on, then we’d have much more information on it and they wouldn’t have been scooped on everything. Plus, some of these guys pick and choose. They’ll vote for players who have used. They do it based on personal bias which is wrong.

  • william sippel

    It is a fact that Thome was never tested so no one knows including Larry Brown who seems reluctant to give him any credit. But, we do know that certain ballplayers DID use and they seem to be untouchable as far as any action being taken against them. But, whatever, just don’t bet like Pete Rose did or you’ll never get near a baseball team again.

  • http://larrybrownsports.com Larry Brown

    This isn’t at all about giving Thome credit. I give him plenty. It’s about writers picking and choosing ones they *think* are clean. That’s wrong, have to group em all together. Thome has been an elite power hitter throughout his career. This is about writers, not Thome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1151581349 Steve Nadel

    Larry, your whole premise is wrong.  In this country and I’ll extend to the baseball players in the steroid era, are innocent until proven guilty.

    As for a separate Steroid Wing, that is stupid and childish.  Every era in baseball has a cloud. 

    Betting before 1920, Spitball cheaters, Not letting Black and dark skinned players compete, giving everyone 8 more games a year to compile greater numbers than their predecessors since 1961.  The DH compilers to name a few.

    You compare players against the greats in their era.  You base it on what you know, not a witch hunt or speculation.

    There has been cheating since the game began, like runners cutting from 1st to 3rd when there was only one umpire in the 1800’s.  Steroids was high tech cheating, but it didn’t improve their hand eye coordination, you still had to hit the ball, but gaining the advantage is what the game is all about ever since it was invented.

    What about MLB and their blind eye to what happened in the 90’s.  They knew, but were blind to it as they were trying to recover from the labor troubles so they turned a blind eye until the heat was turned up and they had to lay down rules.

    The whole thing suck.  Since we really don’t know, let it be.