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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Why Isn’t Jim Thome’s 600 Career Home Run Chase Getting More Attention?

Slugger Jim Thome has 596 career home runs and is four away from becoming just the eighth player in MLB history to reach the 600 homer milestone. The seven players to achieve the mark are some of the game’s all-time best players: Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Alex Rodriguez (626), and Sammy Sosa (609). Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, and Mays are considered four of the greatest offensive players in history. A-Rod and Griffey are two of the best all-around players baseball has seen. Sosa was a steroids freak.

The point is the 600 home run club is extremely exclusive and reserved for elite players (Sosa excluded). That being the case, our friends at Babes Love Baseball raised an interesting question: why isn’t Jim Thome receiving more attention for his pursuit of the elusive mark?

I came up with five reasons why his chase is not getting more attention.

1. 600 Home Runs is Not a Magical Milestone

Baseball is a game of numbers and we’ve arbitrarily selected the ones that are most significant. For whatever reason, 3,000 career hits, 500 home runs, and 300 career wins have earned historical importance. Even though 600 home runs is a 20% more than 500 and much harder to achieve, it doesn’t have the same ring as 500 home runs (however stupid that may be).

2. Small Market

Jim Thome has played for the Phillies and White Sox, but most of his career was spent with the Indians. He’s now with the Twins. I have nothing against either team nor their cities and fans, but the reality is Cleveland and Minneapolis are small-market compared to the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cubs or other more popular teams. Put Thome in pinstripes and there would be daily headlines about his chase.

3. No Controversy

Thome is one of the most affable characters in baseball. He’s never fought with teammates, management, or the media. Nice guys are lovely, but the media thrives on controversy. See what they did with Derek Jeter? What nasty angle could be pursued with Thome? There’s nothing intriguing about a sweet guy like Jim.

4. Steroids Have Diminished Home Run Milestones

Of the seven players in the 600 home run club, six are all-time greats. Sammy Sosa is the other. Sosa does not fit. Bonds and A-Rod are admitted steroids users. It used to be extremely difficult to reach 500 home runs, but in the steroid era, guys were hitting 50 and 60 home runs with regularity and changing history. Simply put, we’ve been desensitized towards home runs because of steroids and we’re having trouble redefining significant milestones.

5. Not a Special Player

I love Jim Thome. I always have. Not only is he a great guy, but he’s also been one of the premier power hitters in the game since the mid-90s. He’s had six seasons with an OPS over 1.000 and his career .960 OPS is 17th in history. I know all that. Intelligent fans recognize it too. But looking at things objectively, it must be recognized that Thome is not a special player. He never made spectacular catches in center the way Griffey did. He never hit 73 home runs like Bonds. He never called his shot like the Babe. He didn’t win five World Series titles like Jeter. Thome has been one of the best players of his generation, but he’s not memorable the way others are.

To a lesser extent, I would also argue that Thome’s lack of success this year (due to injuries and playing part-time) has taken away from the anticipation that comes with someone pursuing a milestone.

Thome has been an extremely enjoyable player throughout his career and he’ll end up in Cooperstown. He’ll just get there with much less fanfare than most players, though he’ll be no less beloved.

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