Jim Thome Hits 600th Home Run: Doesn't Compare to Rest of Club, Jeter's 3,000th
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Maybe he wasn't overlooked. Unconsidered. A slip in seamheads' minds.
Maybe, comparatively, Jim Thome's pursuit of 600 home runs wasn't that big a deal.
There's no denying that it didn't get play. Save for columns lobbying for more columns, Thome's historic chase got less pub than a Mormon.
But other than news that it happened—in yesterday's seventh inning in Detroit—there wasn't anything to tell.
Consider Thome's company (excluding the juicers, for obvious skewed-stat reasons): Babe Ruth led the majors in home runs 12 times. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr won four such titles apiece.
Thome was only No. 1 once, with 47 in 2003, but split the crown with Alex Rodriguez.
The other four were MVPs—Mays won two 11 years apart, between his rookie run (1954) and 1965, and Ruth won the 1923 award unanimously. Griffey won two, in 1992 and 1997. Aaron won it in 1957, and finished third the year before and two years after.
Thome never finished higher than fourth (2003).
As as for well-roundedness, Thome simply wasn't. Mays was a Gold Glover for 12 consecutive years (1957-68). Griffey was for a decade (1990-99). Hank Aaron won four straight (1957-'60). Coverage of his offensive-centric chase and Thome's Hall of Fame chops are separate arguments. But still a lock for Cooperstown, Thome undoubtedly files in behind Mays, Aaron and Griffey for deficient D—and everything else.
Which STORY was most significant?
Conventional wisdom and recent balloting tells you Thome gets into the Hall before Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa. But commendable as it is that he kept clean through the filthiest of baseball's dirty days, Thome's restraint isn't as pronounced as the others' footprints.
A known cheater and presumed perjurer, Bonds is still baseball's home run king. Alex Rodriguez might be its greatest talent ever. Sosa—or steroids, or both—defibrillated the sport in 1998.
And if there was ever a call for a closer look, consider it taken: Steroids were good for baseball's popularity. Thome's recent obscurity proves it.
He pales even in comparison to Jeter, mildly resented for the pomp before and after his 3,000th hit. Like it or loathe it, Jeter was more deserving of press—however diluted his milestone, and numerous his predecessors (27 previous members in 3,000 hit club) relative to Thome's (seven previously in 600 HR club).
Remember: the buzz wasn't about the prize; it was about the winner and his following. Thome spent 21 scattered seasons in anonymity, bouncing from the Indians (1991 to 2002) to Phillies (2003 to '05) to White Sox (2006 to '09) to Dodgers (2009) to Twins (2010 to present). Save for Sammy Sosa (three times), none of the other 600 HRers changed teams more than twice. Jeter spent his entire career captaining the fondest team in the country's No. 1 media market.
Thome's résumé has been both more expendable and a lesser draw. So why would that change, even for its boldest line?
On the latter: News judgments make these considerations. Much as it miffs the public, news organizations have ratings to maintain. Papers to sell. Advertisers to woo.
Maybe Thome's just wasn't as sellable a story.
Like Jeter, Thome was defined by his class.
"Jim Thome is the best," said Twins reliever Matt Capps.
"He is the world's nicest man," said Twins closer Joe Nathan.
But Thome was never tested by the sizzle of a microscope. Thome-led teams were 6-9 in postseason series. Jeter's lost nine too—but won 21-of-30. And that was just the glamor; No Baseball Reference stat tracks tumult, what Jeter leveled within the Yankee organization for years.
Jim Thome never curbed a George Steinbrenner, never deflected prods into Alex Rodriguez's love life. Or A-Rod's postseason struggles. Or pharmaceuticals. No saying Thome couldn't have—you'd be goofy to think he wouldn't or couldn't.
But that's not his legacy. It's Jeter's.
In a different setting with fewer off-field rumblings, you wonder how heralded Jeter's moment would've been.
It wouldn't have gone unnoticed. But neither did Thome's. Granted, it took the same tenor as "overrated for being underrated" campaigns. But it counts.
The second No. 600 skipped into Comerica Park's stands, an emboldened message scrolled along ESPN's BottomLine. Tim Kurkjian shot a stand-up. SportsCenter aired it, a sliver of the montage dedicated to Thome's moment.
What more do you want from a baseball story?
It's August, when real estate turns to football. Think of the spotlight like timeshares: Baseball had its run in a NFL-less June and July, enjoying a more popular than ever trade deadline before the lockout was lifted. But it's stay is over until October.
If only Thome's 600th came July 9, when Jeter did his 3,000th. If only baseball were as prominently placed in focus. If only Thome, for his all unwavering diligence and uncompromising character, was a bigger deal.
But it didn't. Baseball isn't.
And Thome simply wasn't.
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