James Howard Thome, Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2017.
Or at least that's how it should go down.
The year is arbitrary depending on how much longer he chooses to play. What is certain, though, is that soon-to-be member of MLB's 600 Home Run Club, Jim Thome, should be in baseball's Hall of Fame (and on the first ballot, at that).
It's a travesty for myself to even have to gather the energy at two in the morning to write this article, but I couldn't tolerate Skip Bayless' useless drivel from a recent episode of ESPN's First Take floating around my mind much longer.
To quote the always witty yet rarely insightful Bayless, Jim Thome should be in "the Hall of Very, Very Good." Not Fame.
His partner in crime on that day's episode was none other than Dan Graziano (who?), an NFC East Blogger (yes, that's football) for ESPN who has apparently been gifted with voting privileges for the Hall (yes, for baseball. I share your confusion).
Both men agreed Thome should not be in the Hall of Fame. They didn't make much of an actual argument, unless you consider repeating empty points in different wording several times an argument. I'd just consider it a bad one, but that's me.
Jay Harris, usually the mediator on the show that airs on ESPN2 on weekday afternoons (which I would recommend watching, even if only for the purpose of making yourself feel smarter whenever Skip chimes in), took the stance that Thome should be in, just not on the first ballot.
Now, this debate didn't begin here and certainly doesn't end here. ESPN was not the first to bring the matter up and won't be the last. It was simply Graziano and Bayless' poor arguments (which they so vehemently defended) that brought me to write this article.
Let's get this straight: there's definitely an argument to be made for either side.
Thome will reach 600 home runs sometime in the near future, but big milestones shouldn't guarantee enshrinement (see: Bonds, Barry; Sosa, Sammy). There's plenty more to look at about a player's career than home runs, hits, average, whatever it may be, that must be explored before deciding your vote.
If done right, one could make a proper case as to why country-boy Jim doesn't belong alongside the names of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. The First Take crew (not including Jay Harris) just went about it all the wrong way.
Graziano begins with the Steroid Era argument. He says that since Thome played during this infamous time period in which even the bat boys' mothers juiced, suspicion is warranted. He compares this case to that of Jeff Bagwell, to whom he also did not give a vote.
When quickly prompted by Harris about why he would then vote for Derek Jeter, who has played during the same era, our HOF voter resembled a lost puppy in the pouring rain. His reply, after a minute of stuttering, was that he doesn't "feel the same level of suspicion."
Herein lies the issue. If you are going to apply the Steroid Era argument to a player's eligibility for the Hall, especially someone who has never even come up in reports, you must do so for everyone else.
To leave Thome off your ballot based on unwarranted, made-up feelings of suspicion yet at the same time give Jeter the green light is completely irresponsible as a voter.
This is not to say that Thome is as talented a player as The Captain. There simply needs to be a standard so that a player during this time that never gave even a hint of suspicion that he played the game dishonestly isn't robbed of an honor he deserves.
If you want to keep him out for other reasons, so be it. But keeping him out solely based on something conjured up in your own head is just wrong.
Included with his steroid point, Graziano shares that he believes Thome is a HOFer on the numbers--he just doesn't know what those numbers mean anymore.
Two problems here. First, if his numbers are clouded by the time period, so are Jeter's. Again, if you don't know what Thome's numbers mean, the same has to apply for everyone.
Second, what else is there besides numbers? Sure, there's the question of was the player clean. You could also raise concerns about a player's class on and off the field, as well as his overall meaning to the game. The only thing is, well, Thome passes each with flying colors.
Never has he tested positive or been attached to some random report. Never has anyone questioned his class, as most players refer to him as the nicest guy in baseball. And while he has never been a national superstar, he's been a fan favorite everywhere he's been.
Players like him, fans like him, even opposing pitchers like him. This is a unique player who exemplifies exactly what baseball should be about: trying your damned hardest all the while keeping your head out of the clouds and your feet on the ground.
Shortly after, Graziano has somewhat of a point when he says that Thome has led the league in homers only once, has never been a World Series Champion, and was never awarded Most Valuable Player.
To that I say for a career featuring sluggers such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Frank Thomas, among others, once is still impressive.
Aside from that, from the 234 players so far elected into the HOF, about a hundred or so are without a ring. Plus, there's a plethora of MVP winners that haven't made it into Cooperstown. Jackie Jensen, anyone? How about Zoilo Versalles? The list goes on and on.
Baseball is more of a team sport than any other, so the value of a championship should only be used as a tie-breaker (which Graziano does say later on, so I'll give him that).
Sure you can knock a few balls out of the park in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, but without any support on the mound and from the eight other guys in the batting order, you aren't winning squat in a raffle at your local Applebee's, let alone a ring.
Perhaps what irked me most from Graziano's argument was what he said about the lack of specific rules on voting. He says, "This isn't a court of law. I don't need to have proof. I could vote for only guys that have brown eyes. There's no rules in here, I have my own criteria for voting."
Yes, Dan, as you should. Having your own criteria is perfectly fine given the fact that there is a lack of definite rules when it comes to voting. Yet, in a time like this, more than personal suspicion of steroid usage is needed to vote no on any player.
Proof? Wonderful. Reasonable suspicion? Also acceptable. Suspicion plucked from the deep hallows of your noggin? Simply unacceptable. This isn't a court of law, but you'd have been thrown out right then and there if it were.
As Harris put it shortly afterword, baseball is a numbers game. Six hundred home runs is six hundred home runs. As of now, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Willie Mays are the only names who stand above Thome on the all-time home run list. That's some exclusive company.
Bonds and Sosa likely won't be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but that's because they actually tested positive for illegal substances. On top of that, Sosa went a step further and used a corked bat during play. There's your proof for these gentlemen, your honor. Now get back to me when you find any reasonable suspicion on Thome.
Let's turn to Bayless and what he had to say on the matter. His points are a little better than those of Graziano's, but that isn't saying much. Plus, all that yelling I could've done without.
Skip points out that Thome was never a transcendent player. This is true. What's also true is that neither were plenty others already in Cooperstown.
Then again, had he played for a team like the New York Yankees, we might have a transcendent first-ballot inductee on our hands. He played in a big-name market only once and that was for 17 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He did enjoy three successful seasons in Philadelphia, though that was long before R2C2 directed the national spotlight on the City of Brotherly Love.
He was transcendent in Cleveland, however, where he spent his first 12 seasons in the bigs. In 2003, a fan poll named Thome the most popular athlete in Cleveland sports history. The sad thing is, barely anyone outside of Ohio even noticed.
The reason his hunt for 600 long balls hasn't been spotlighted as much as you'd expect is due to the fact that he simply isn't that national star. It's not because he isn't talented enough. He just doesn't care to be all over the news.
Over his 21-year career he has managed to elude controversy and stay out of public scrutiny at all times. He keeps his mouth shut and plays ball. No way should that do anything but help his case for enshrinement.
Plus, the completely overblown coverage for Jeter's 3,000th hit chase dominated baseball storylines for months and left Thome's approaching milestone on the back pages.
If anything, reaching 600 homers is far and away a more impressive accomplishment than 3,000 hits. There are seven players with 600 HR's compared to 28 with 3,000 hits. I'll take seven for 600, Alex.
Please, when it comes to deciding a player's Hall of Fame status, disregard a their star status or lack thereof. Remember, this is a numbers game and not a popularity contest. Numbers first, everything else after that.
I've done enough prodding at First Take's reasons why Jim Thome is not deserving of the Hall of Fame. So why exactly does he belong?
Besides that golden 600 home run mark (that he will reach barring any catastrophe), there isn't much that pops out. His career .277 average isn't anything to write home about, yet it doesn't hold him back, either.
But Thome does rank 19th all time in slugging percentage at .557, ninth all-time in walks, and fifth in home run frequency (HR's per at-bat.)
Add to that four top-seven finishes in MVP voting and five All-Star selections and we have a legitimate case. Oh, and he's tied for first all-time with 12 walk-off homers. So there's that, too.
Beyond the diamond, there's even more in his favor. We've already discussed his class, the respect he's earned from his peers, his generosity, blah, blah, blah. I'm getting bored of it, too. But there's no denying the fact that those things matter. And they matter a lot.
Sure he's never been the star. He's never drawn droves of fans to the ballpark like A-Rod has. He's a very different breed of player compared to what we see in today's world.
He doesn't have that star power, that flashy persona that the public feeds off. But what he lacks in flash he compensates with class. Class trumps flash in my book any day of the week.
He goes about his craft quietly but that doesn't diminish what he's accomplished. We all should praise the guy for everything he's done. He's talented, he's clean, he's honest, he's generous, and he's smart.
He's what a baseball player should be. He's what a man should be.
Oh, and he's what a Hall of Famer should be.
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