Jim Thome 600 Home Runs: Why He's Not a Slam Dunk Hall of Famer
Joining such an exclusive club would seem to book a player an automatic ticket to Cooperstown.
But Thome is no slam dunk for the Hall of Fame. Read on for the pros and cons of Thome's Cooperstown credentials.
Pro: Thome at the Plate
Jim Thome was a key engine in those mid-to-late-90’s Cleveland Indian teams that were some of the most loaded in recent baseball history. From 1995-2002, he averaged 38 home runs and 104 runs batted in while batting .293.
His best year was in 2002 where he hit 52 home runs, 118 RBIs, led the league in slugging and hit .304.
He got even hotter when he went to Philadelphia as he hit 47 and 42 home runs in 2003 and 2004 while driving in 131 and 105 RBIs, respectively. After 2005, he hit 111 home runs while driving in 295 runs in three years with the Chicago White Sox.
In 1998, Thome became the first player to hit four home runs in one ALCS.
Thome was also clutch as the all-time MLB leader in walk-off home runs (12), including his 500th home run in 2007. In total, he has 16 seasons with 20 or more home runs, 11 with 30 or more and 6 with 40 or more.
He was a much better version of Mark McGwire minus the steroids and for those who think that’s a dig, consider that McGwire was one of the best power hitters in MLB as a rookie and kept that going despite battling injuries in the 1990s.
Another key fact—Thome's on-base percentage of .403 is seventh among active players.
Pro: Thome in the Field
Despite being more of a designated hitter since 2006, Thome was a solid fielder. His career fielding percentage at first base was .994 and by all accounts, he was a great defender.
His candidacy might be hurt by his later years as a DH but he spent most of his prime in the field and Hall of Fame voters have to take that into consideration. He sure didn't embarrass himself.
Pro: Thome off the Field
Jim Thome might as well be called Gentleman Jim because he embodied that throughout his career.
In 2002, he was voted Man of the Year by the Baseball Writers of America and won the Roberto Clemente Award. He was named Marvin Miller Man of the Year twice by the players in 2001 and 2004.
By all accounts, he’s a class act and respected by fans and teammates alike, yet the Hall of Fame doesn’t always take that into consideration. This is one case, however, where a nice guy shouldn't finish last.
Con: Thome's Resume Is Low on Honors
Thome only made five All-Star teams in his 21 seasons. Not counting his first four seasons, that’s still only five for 17. He was chosen twice by fan voting, three times by coaches.
Thome also finished only once among the top five in the MVP race (fourth place in 2003). He finished sixth and twice finished seventh. He also only has one Silver Slugger award to his credit.
All-Star voting can be subjective of course, but surely a Hall of Fame player has to have more than five appearances. The lack of MVP votes also show that Thome was overshadowed but a Hall of Fame player has to find more ways to stand out in his prime.
This is the biggest knock on Thome and the fact that his chase toward both 500 and 600 home runs were met with curious fascination instead of wild anticipation says a lot about his career being more very good than elite.
Con: The Mike Mussina Dilemma
If the lack of honors don’t help Thome’s case, neither does the fact that despite his great numbers, he’s got a contemporary who shares his pain despite a similar resume.
Jim Thome is the hitting version of Mike Mussina. Mussina was a great, consistent pitcher who had great numbers but was never considered an elite pitcher due to the big names around him.
Look at Moose’s numbers: 270 career wins; six seasons of 18 or more wins, including 20 in his final season (2008); seven seasons in the Top 10 for earned run average; five All-Star appearances; and seven Gold Gloves.
Yet Moose’s Hall of Fame chances are dim despite his consistency. Besides his near perfect game in September 2001 among others, he doesn’t have too many transcendent moments that made him an elite pitcher. His closest Cy Young award finish was second in 1999.
That’s another problem with Thome. Besides his walk-off hits, he doesn’t have too many moments that scream Hall of Fame.
The Final Word
Jim Thome is one of the best sluggers of his era and numbers-wise, he has Hall of Fame credentials. He’s a clean player and voters might be willing to honor him to make a statement. As I showed, he puts Mark McGwire to shame as a home run hitter, let alone in other areas as a hitter.
Despite that, he’s also under the radar and even though he put up numbers, he was considered a product of his era instead of someone who defined it like Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds or Tony Gwynn.
He was overshadowed in Cleveland early on by Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez despite hitting cleanup, yet he proved late into his career that his power stroke was legit and he put up some great numbers at 35, 36 and 37 years old.
I compare it to Craig Biggio, who was one of the top second basemen of the 1990s and quietly, yet steadily climbed his way into the 3,000 hit club. He had the resume and versatility in the field but he more had the respect around baseball and was hailed for his loyalty to Houston. He may not have been flashy all the time, but he consistently went about his business.
Thome will probably get close to or just over the 75 percent votes needed in his first year of eligibility. He’s an easier pick as a second or third ballot selection but either way, he deserves to be honored for his outstanding career. He won me over with his consistency and this is his moment worth celebrating.